Black Friday shoppers still show, but some scale backby Annie Baxter, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — If anything kept people from shopping today, it might not have been the bad economy, but just the traffic alone.
I get my first taste of what Black Friday is like this year sitting on the exit ramp off of Highway 36, trying to get to Rosedale Mall. The mall must be pretty crammed with people, because I can't get anywhere near it. I'm stuck sitting on the ramp in a long line of cars.
When I finally get to the mall's parking lot, it's dense with cars circling around for spots. Pedestrians return to their cars lugging heavy bags.
Among them are Deana Beggeman and Morgan Frank.
A recession did not seem to be on the minds of these two women in their 20s during their five-hour shopping expedition today. Neither of them scaled back their gift purchases much.
"Not really," Beggeman said. "I just buy everything on sale. Feel better about it."
Morgan Frank agreed.
"You always have to keep your price limited," she said.
Deana Beggeman had set a budget for herself; she was going to just spend $300. However, she ended up dropping an extra $150. She couldn't resist picking up a few items for herself.
She giggles with embarrassment over how much she bought for herself, and offers the excuse that the gifts for other people are in her car.
"Yeah, a full trunk of stuff for other people," she said.
At the mall's entrance, you hear the unmistakable sound of a Salvation Army bell.
Bell ringer Charles Ross said, despite the bad economy, shoppers are not holding back in their donations. Some were even stuffing $20 bills in the kettle.
"They so generous," Ross said.
But inside the mall, there are signs of shopper restraint.
"Well, I'm pretty much staying on my budget this year," said Carol Holeman.
Holeman was taking a break on a bench, surrounded by bags of gifts. She's keeping an eye on her friends' purchases. They're still shopping, but her budget and fatigue have slowed her down.
"My budget is a lot less than it was last year," Holeman said. "About $300-$400 less."
Holeman is close to retirement, and she lost a lot of money in her 401K. That's what's holding her back.
"There isn't any money left," she said. "Took a big hit."
With more penny pinchers like Holeman out there, stores have been competing aggressively for wallet share.
That has meant tough times for some of the small business that line the corridors of the mall.
"It's not that good, yeah," said vendor Jamal Khan.
Khan sells 24-karat gold jewelry at a kiosk in the mall. He said the bigger stores are getting all the business today with their massive sales. That's despite the fact that he's slashed his own prices 50 percent
"And still not good business," Khan said. "If things go like that, maybe I put 75 percent, because I'm losing a lot of money."
But even if Khan cuts his prices more, he doubts he'll recover his losses.
No matter how great the bargains at big or small retailers, some people could not be coaxed into shopping today.
And their ranks include some surprises.
"Well, these are million dollar houses along this stretch," said a woman named Britt.
Britt lives along the river in St. Paul, in a sprawling five-bedroom house. Despite her family's apparent wealth, this year she isn't buying any Christmas presents. She's knitting them all by hand.
"Several of the women in my family are getting these little knit fingerless hand warmers and a little hat for my daughter's boyfriend," Britt said.
Britt asked that we not use her last name, because her husband doesn't want anyone to think that his business is in trouble. But the fact is, the family is scaling back on spending as a precaution. That's why Britt's Christmas gift budget is limited to knitting materials, which she buys discounted and with coupons.
"I may go visit my yarn discount store which is also open today and maybe go and see if I can score some more bargain yarn for knitting," she said.
But that, Britt said, would be the extent of her Black Friday shopping. The monster sales will not lure her in.
- All Things Considered, 11/28/2008, 5:24 p.m.