WESLEY CHAPEL — The left-turn lanes were full of cars even at 11 a.m. as drivers jockeyed for parking spaces at the Shops at Wiregrass' inaugural Black Friday.
Some spots were still available at the new mall's far end if people were willing to drive around.
"We're not at capacity," marketing director Chad Doritan said. However, he expected traffic to peak later in the day as shoppers finished up at big box retailers, some of which opened during the wee hours with doorbuster sales.
By about 3 p.m. mall officials expected to see 25,000 to 30,000 vehicles for the day, with each one averaging 2.2 passengers.
"That's good," Doritan said, adding that the mall's light show draws more shoppers at night. "It's a nice flow. It's busy but not to the point you can't walk."
Though the ladies' room at Barnes & Noble had a line, and plenty of shoppers carried bags, some said they were being cautious in a battered economy.
"We've definitely cut back," said Donna Berry, 42, of Wesley Chapel as she waited on her husband, Steve, to finish the hot dog he bought from a stand in center court. Donna Berry came to Wiregrass just to buy some bath towels that Macy's had marked down from $14 to $5.99.
"We were on a mission," she said.
Berry, a district manager for Sweetbay Supermarket, said she considers her job secure "because everyone has to eat." However, in this climate of falling home values and shrinking retirement funds, she wanted to be frugal.
That means less costly gifts for their three daughters, ages 18, 17 and 9. It also means no gifts for the grownups.
Also cutting back was Tim Quinn, 45, of New Tampa.
"We're here for the bargains," he said as he watched his 14-month-old nephew, Blake Chamberlain, toddle around the play area. Like Berry, Quinn works in a secure industry — making electricity meters — but he and his wife have watched their 401(k) accounts plummet.
"I think it's going to be a lot worse next year than this year," he said, but the key to survival is "focusing on the long term."
Not everyone was concerned.
At Toys R Us in Wesley Chapel, Cheryl and Russell Davidson had to use two shopping carts to wheel out the haul for their son, D.J., who turns 5 on Dec. 15.
"He's spoiled rotten," said Cheryl Davidson, 42. The family lives in Webster, in a fixer-upper home that has tripled in value, and Russell Davidson's job has him working with power companies, so they feel secure.
The Wesley Chapel Toys R Us reported brisk sales. Within four hours of opening, it had racked up $100,000 in sales, said assistant manager David Medina.
"Right now, we're No. 3 in the region," he said.
At Gulf View Square mall in Port Richey, Lori Frenden took a break in a lounge chair as a friend picked up a few more items at Old Navy.
Frenden is a 35-year-old homemaker from New Port Richey. Her husband has a good job as a nursing home administrator, but doubts about the economy, as well as a re-evaluation of her overspending last Christmas, led her to try cutting back this year.
Frenden had never gone Black Friday bargain shopping before. But this year she thought she would brave the crowds to find the best deals. "I'm looking for better sales," she said. "If something isn't good enough of a sale, I'll pass on it."
She was buying toys for her 3-year-old son and even picked up a few items she needed that happened to be on sale, like bedsheets at Macy's. Her biggest shopping spree was at Wal-Mart, though, where she spent about $80.
Retirees Betty and Andy Rispoli were resting on a mall bench just as their granddaughters disappeared into the dark, throbbing, music-filled teenage den of Hollister. Black Friday is a tradition for them, and they say they had found some good clothing sales at Old Navy for their granddaughters.
Though they expect to spend about the same on gifts as they did last year, they said the mall crowd was noticeably smaller in the wee hours of Black Friday.
"Last year there were lines," Betty Rispoli said. "It's really tough for the young people. I feel sorry for them."