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Shoppers say Black Friday bustling, but not overwhelming at malls

Black Friday shopping got off to a slow start at some Palm Beach County malls, with some shoppers saying sales that began earlier in the week gave them time to sleep in Friday after a big Thanksgiving meal.

While Black Friday is expected to hold its spot as the busiest shopping day of the year, that didn’t stop retailers from trying to court shoppers long before the turkey hit the table.

At the Palm Beach Outlets on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard, West Palm Beach resident Estacia Thomas said she finished much of her shopping in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.

“I came here earlier this week,” Thomas said of her pre-Thanksgiving shopping spree. “I was here on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. It was the same deals.”

Thomas returned to the outlet mall on Black Friday with her mother and a group of four children to take advantage of another bargain: free photos with Santa Claus. She said she learned about the mall’s promotion on Facebook.

“Our kids love Santa and they are ready for Christmas,” Thomas said.

For the second year in a row, the outlet mall is offering free Santa photos. The promotion started on Friday and runs through Christmas Eve. Each family receives two 4-by-6 inch prints and a digital download of single image.

“It is a great deal,” said Lake Worth resident Kathy Jones, who had come to the mall with her daughter, Katie, and 3-year-old granddaughter, Lily, just for the free promotion.

The family was one of the first in line when Santa started posing for photos just after 10 a.m.

“I am probably going to look around, but I’m mainly here for the free photos,” Katie Jones said.

Pam Rada, a spokewoman for the outlets, said the mall has been busy since Monday, as a growing number of stores began offering Black Friday-like promotions.

Although crowds were thin early Friday morning, by mid-morning, shoppers were streaming into the outlet center.

On the other side of Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard, big box chains like Target, Best Buy and BrandsMart were also busy.

In the BrandsMart parking lot, workers directed cars to free parking spaces, and barricades controlled the flow of traffic.

At Town Center in Boca Raton, there was a steady, but not altogether overwhelming, flow of shoppers.

“It’s busier than a usual mall day, but definitely not ‘Black Friday’ busy,” said Courtney Watkins, of Lighthouse Point, who was clutching several shopping bags. She came to the Boca Raton mall about 9 a.m. with her mother, Shelly, and hardly waited in line, she said.

The department stores and typically popular shops, such as the Apple Store and Forever 21, were packed with shoppers Friday morning.

“It’s chaos in the Macy’s shoe department,” said Vanessa Hill, of Boca Raton. She arrived at the mall about 8 a.m., two hours after it opened, and spent about an hour in line at the large department store.

“You just have to have patience in stores like that,” Hill said.

Mariana Danois, a New Yorker who was visiting her son in Boca Raton, was “in and out” at the Apple Store, despite visible lines stretching into the mall outside the tech store, because of “express lanes” the store set up for shoppers, she said.

“I thought it was going to be a mad rush,” she said of the mall. “It just isn’t busy.”

There was noticeably less traffic in the mall compared to this past year, said Danit Kricheli, a two-year employee at mall kiosk Dynamic Sonic.

“Last Black Friday I would say was definitely a bit busier,” Kricheli said just before 11 a.m. “But we weren’t really expecting much.”

Shoppers are expected to spend between $678.75 billion and $682 billion in November and December, up from $655.8 billion during the same time frame this past year, according to the National Retail Federation said.

On average, shoppers will spend a record $967 on gifts, which is up 3.4 percent from 2016’s average of $935, the national group said.

Consumers will also have more time to shop this year. There are 32 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas — one day more than there was in 2016.

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