WESLEY CHAPEL — Bill Denton and his son got up early Friday, left their Dade City home and headed to the Shops at Wiregrass for Black Friday deals. They arrived at 7 a.m. Denton, 39, expected the place to be packed. It wasn't.
"It's dead in here," Denton said. "I'm kind of shocked."
It turns out Denton and his son hit the outdoor shopping mall at a key time for good parking spots and less-crowded stores. The rush had already come and gone, as Macy's and a few other stores decided to open at midnight on Thanksgiving and stay open until their usual closing times Friday night. More than 500 people camped out in front of Macy's, said Angie Pearson, vice president store manager.
When the doors opened, shoppers bounded up the escalator for the home department, where people could get small electronics, like brownie makers and mini cupcake makers, for less than $20. With a $10 mail in rebate, some shoppers were getting items for $10 or less.
Sheets were also a large seller. Some sets originally priced at $100 were on final clearance for $5.99. Others with a higher thread count were marked down from $140 to $25.
"It was extremely exciting," said Pearson, noting this was the first year Macy's opened at midnight. It's too early to tally sales figures, but Pearson said the store did well.
The other stores at Wiregrass opened at various times between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. Friday. This staggered store openings helped to make the Black Friday shopping experience more calm and enjoyable, said Greg Lenners, general manager of the Shops at Wiregrass. He said customers liked the midnight openings.
"So far, the consensus is positive," he said.
The lull seemed to end by 9:30 a.m., with a new wave of people arriving and the parking lot filling up.
Melissa Mptias, 39, and her friend Jeanette Stone, 44, carried several bags each and sat down to rest on a bench. Both women live in Land O'Lakes and met when their daughters were in preschool 10 years ago. Black Friday shopping is their tradition. They usually start at 4 a.m., but got a late start at 5:30 a.m. this year. They loved the calm vibe at Wiregrass.
"We come here to have a good time," Stone said. She and Mptias don't want to fight crowds — or any other shoppers for deals.
"The stress and pressure of fighting over something would ruin it," Stone said.
Over at The Grove at Wesley Chapel, Margaret Garrett pushed a full shopping cart out of Michael's. This was her first Black Friday and it began at 10 p.m. Thursday at Walmart in Bushnell, where she lives. She wanted a set of 600-thread count sheets offered at only $19.96. Garrett said the sheets are regularly $89. Supplies were low when she got to the front, but she picked up a set.
"And a woman grabbed it right out of my hands!" Garrett said. "She said, 'This is mine!' I just let her have it."
There were a few left and Garrett got another one, plus a phone for $38 and an electric griddle for $9. She wasn't planning to brave the Black Friday crowds again, but she saw the sales Michael's was offering on items she recently purchased. So she returned the $100 worth of wreath-making supplies and then rebought them.
"I saved $30," she said.
The Grove was also busy but without panic-inducing crowds Friday morning.
"I don't think a lot of people have the extra income to blow on Black Friday deals," said Robb Brill, 27, of Wesley Chapel, who was heading into Best Buy with his 2-year-old son. He has done Black Friday shopping for more than 10 years and usually is up and out in the wee hours. But this year he didn't see any major deals worth getting out of bed for.
"It's not things you need," Brill said of the sales items. "It's stuff you want."
Best Buy had many things people wanted — especially a 42" Sharp LCD HDTV for $199.99. General Manager Thomas Gray said 1,500 people camped out in a line that snaked around the building. And 30 of those people began their TV stakeout six days before Thanksgiving, Gray said.
"We are having a blast," he said.
Clear maps of the store helped reduce confusion and keep things moving smoothly, Gray said. Each department was color coded on a map and then with bright balloons inside. This was the first year Best Buy opened at midnight.
"It worked really well," Gray said.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.