Shoppers flock to experience in-person shopping at local mall on Black Friday

The day after Thanksgiving, suburban shoppers gave local malls something to be thankful for.

Black Friday crowds were robust at such malls as Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg and Fox Valley Mall in Aurora.

Woodfield's parking lot was near its 10,000-space capacity by 11 a.m., roughly six hours after it opened, according to mall management.

A steady flow of customers passed along the corridors, ramps and escalators at Woodfield. Signs filled the mall trumpeting 50% discounts, no small enticement in an era of inflation.

But it was the family experience as much as the prices that lured shoppers from throughout the area.

Customers were met by family-friendly sights and smells - a train wending its merry way, the provocative aroma of sweets wafting through the air.

Alicia Ernst of Grayslake made the trip to the Schaumburg mall to enjoy a day of shopping and eating with her family.

One advantage of shopping in person, rather than online, is "being able to try things on for the kids," she said.

She was joined by her mom, Linda Clifton, who traveled from Stronghurst, near Monmouth, and her sister, Andrea Clifton, of Hoffman Estates.

"We've been coming to Woodfield all our lives," Andrea said. She said they usually make a day of it. "I think it still offers a variety of options for everyone and all the play features for the kids."

They stopped at the recently opened Radio Flyer store, where, on hand to greet customers was Robert Pasin, Radio Flyer's CEO, or, as he called it, "Chief Wagon Officer."

Pasin has a special connection to Radio Flyer. His grandfather, a carpenter who came to Chicago from a small town in Northern Italy, founded the company in 1917. His ability to mass produce the wagons "earned him the nickname 'Little Ford,' because he did for wagons what Ford did for cars," he said.

The response to the new store in Woodfield - the first one opened by the company - has been overwhelming, he said.

"We have had thousands of people come through this store already in the two weeks we have been open," he said.

Explaining the company's decision to open a store in the age of online sales, he said, "Our products are so physical, and they're so tactile, and they're for kids. People want to see them, they want to touch them, they want to put their kids in them."

The children can even ride a go-kart or a mini-Tesla car on a small track.

While many shoppers were motivated by the family shopping experience, others were spurred on by romance, which can surface in many forms.

Todd Fournier of Des Plaines walked around the mall carrying a gigantic stuffed hamburger toy on his head, which he bought at Squishable.

"My girlfriend loves stuffed animals. It was just her birthday the other day, so I (thought) maybe I will surprise her with a big stuffed animal," he said.

Some of the stores attracted long lines, one being the Lego store.

Among those lined up were Ritesh and Sonia Shah of Glenview and their four children, Rajan, 14, Sanjay, 12, Ravi, 8, and Sophia, 1.

"These guys love Legos. They were super excited about coming here," Ritesh said, with Ravi adding he was especially excited by the Ninjago Legos.

"This is our first Black Friday ever with a family of four," said Sonia, who extolled the virtues of the indoor mall.

"It's indoors. It's got every store. And the vibe. Everyone's friendly. This is an old-school mall experience."

At Fox Valley Mall, Senior General Manager Scott Samson says retailers reported that activity was good but not so overwhelming that staff couldn't fully help every customer.

Fox Valley has been going through a major transformation, with department store parcels being redeveloped into luxury apartments and its ring road being reworked to accommodate new development and construction.

But, Samson said, "It's gratifying to see that that hasn't inconvenienced or impacted the shopper turnout or their experience once they come here."

A lot of people, he said, were reconnaissance shopping.

"They may not purchase today, but they're seeing what's out there, getting ideas, making their list to come back," he said.

And even with the reality of online shopping, Samson said, "There's still a compelling reason to shop in person that probably leans more toward the experiential. When you shop online, you do it alone."

Images: 2023 Black Friday shopping

  Radio Flyer Chief Wagon Officer Robert Pasin was on hand for Black Friday shopping at the company's new store at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg. Joe Lewnard/
  Kids visit with Santa in a snow-globe like setting on Black Friday at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg. Joe Lewnard/
  Shoppers navigate the Black Friday crowds at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg. Joe Lewnard/
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