UPDATED 11/26/10 6:53 a.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – On an average weekday morning, there isn’t much action to be found in downtown Chicago.
A few travelers hauling suitcases will make their way toward the Clark/Lake Blue Line stop to get on the ‘L’ so they can catch their early flights at O’Hare. A handful of people will pour themselves their first cup of morning coffee at one of the many 7-Eleven stores.
But on this Black Friday morning, the stores on State Street and Michigan Avenue were booming long before dawn, and the foot traffic in the suburban malls more resembled what one might expect on a weekday afternoon.
The Old Navy store at 35 N. State St. was open for business well before 5 a.m. At another Old Navy store in Oak Park, people were lining up around the block to take advantage of the holiday bargains, and the first 60 people inside got a wristband to receive a free X-Box 360 game.
But all that was tame compared with the traffic jam that built up in Aurora overnight. CBS 2’s Kris Habermehl reports from midnight to 4 a.m., traffic ground to a standstill on the Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88) as shoppers headed to the Premium Outlet Mall in Aurora. Two-mile backups were reported on the outbound tollway from Farnsworth Avenue.
Police officers and mall security were sent out to direct shoppers as they drove in.
“We are open for business, and we’ve got deals galore,” mall manager Amie Granger said.
At Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, some people lined out as early as 10:30 p.m. Thursday night, even though the doors didn’t open until 4 a.m. at anchor stores and 5 a.m. at smaller ones.
CBS 2’s Roseanne Tellez came across a teenage boy who was spotted walking around the mall in pajamas.
“I just rolled right out of bed and came up here,” he said.
At the Wal-Mart store at 4500 W. North Ave., the manager let customers in before midnight to fill their carts, but were not allowed to make purchases until after midnight.
But at many other stores, customers had to line up and camp outside for several hours.
At the Target store at 2656 N. Elston Ave. in the Logan Square neighborhood, a long line had already formed when doors opened at 4 a.m. The first shopper in line arrived at 8 p.m. Thursday.
Another who was not far behind says waiting as a group was a “spiritual experience.”
“You bond. You make a family out here. That’s important,” said Jessie Sierra. “You can Facebook later on.”
But the temperatures felt more like January than November Friday morning, surely making for a miserable experience for more than a few. As of just after 5 a.m., the mercury read only 18 degrees in Chicago, with wind chills in the single-digits. CBS 2’s Megan Glaros reports the high for the day is only 32.
Consumers Spending More
The long lines might be reflective of shoppers spending more this year.
Experts say consumers who have tightened their belts in the past two years are coming to terms with the current state of the economy. Latest statistics suggest that 90 percent of those who still have their jobs seem less worried and more inclined to spend than they were a year ago.
LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Felicia Middlebrooks Reports
By one estimate, Black Friday bargains are expected to draw 138 million shoppers nationally, up 3 percent from last year.
The crowd at Woodfield seemed to reflect the trend Friday morning.
“Our parking lots are running at about 10 percent more full by the hour where they were the same time last year, so that’s very good news for us,” said Woodlfield manager Marc Strich.
But retail analyst Marshall Cohen says one trend born in the recession will persist. He says gift lists have been shrinking, with shoppers eliminating people who are distant.
He says the shortened list didn’t grow this year, and it may never grow again.
Also, even though holiday sales are expected to be on the rise, retail consultant Candace Corlett said consumers are expected to stick to stores they find affordable.
LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Mike Krauser Reports
Wal-Mart hopes to dominate, having slashed prices on holiday favorites. In a bonanza for consumers, the move by Wal-Mart has forced many of its competitors to follow suit.
CBS 2’s Roseanne Tellez and Kris Habermehl, and WBBM Newsradio 780’s Felicia Middlebrooks and Mike Krauser, contributed to this report.