Black Friday fills parking lots, thrills Wichita businesses

Jason Wolff sat slumped in a chair in the center of Towne West Square, his glazed eyes fixed in the thousand-yard stare — just one of many men whose energy had been drained by Black Friday.

"We got here about 4 this morning," Wolff said, flashing equal parts smile and grimace. "We were supposed to go to Target, but it was really crazy out there so we just came right here."

Wolff was just one man in the masses who descended on major Wichita retailers in the early morning hours.

Black Friday drew mixed reviews: Businesses were thrilled and parking lots were full. But shoppers thought crowds were down a little bit from previous years.

No matter to Wolff, who snapped out of his chin-in-hand pose when asked what he'd bought.

"A lot of tools," he said, showing his first sign of life. "We went to Sears and got some tools, and a lot of clothing items."

The early reports on Black Friday were positive: Where there were store lights in the wee hours, there were packed parking lots along Rock Road.

Even at places like Jimmie's Diner, which had a full house at 5 a.m.

And the war stories were plentiful from the businesses that opened on Thanksgiving Day.

One Toys R Us associate, describing "the craziness," said shoppers ran into the store when it opened at 10 p.m. Thursday — from a line that snaked across multiple storefronts at Kellogg and Rock Road.

It took 90 minutes of waiting in line to check out during the early hours at Kohl's in Derby.

At Kmart near Towne West, shoppers reported a "near-fight" over a Shark vacuum cleaner.

Checkout lines there were another front in the war — 10 deep to pay at the main stations with other lines snaking around electronics and jewelry.

The crazier the better for retailers looking to bolster bottom lines, said Abby Jantz, a spokeswoman at Towne West Square.

Anchor retailers were packed with shoppers, with the only discouraging words from kiosk operators, who said business was slow.

"As you can see from the parking lot, it's packed," Jantz said. "It was like that before 5 when we opened because we did have a few stores in the mall who had opened already, and some of the anchors like Sears and J.C. Penney had opened already."

Several mall stores followed the national trend: Get the best deals in front of consumers before Black Friday.

"Sales are up already for stores. They're doing much better," Jantz said. "It seems like their increases for the season came earlier. I don't know if it means customers are doing their shopping a little earlier or people are just more comfortable with the economic environment."

Same story nationally: the National Retail Federation said Friday morning that HDTVs, toys, Blu-ray players, jewelry, home appliances and apparel were flying off shelves around the country.

Whatever the reason, the market for toys was clearly booming. The shelves at Toys R Us were quickly taking on a looted look at 6 a.m. Friday.

"This is our last stop and then we're going back to bed," said a resolute Darral Sessions as his wife, Becky, looked through some toys.

One trend Becky Sessions noted: Toys from the Disney Pixar movie, "Cars," were hard to come by. Nearby, there was no shortage of "Toy Story 3" items, including a huge plastic Buzz Lightyear doll.

"There are some really good deals out here, but you have to do your homework beforehand," Becky Sessions said.

"Otherwise, you're running around like a crazy person, like the rest of the crazy people out here."

The madness has been worse, said Wolff, at Towne West.

"It's not as busy as I've seen it before," he said. "A couple of years ago, it was absolutely jam packed and we couldn't find a parking spot. This year we were able to get in the front row, so it's pretty nice."

Wolff described himself as a "spectator," albeit a slightly frustrated one.

"I've been trying to get my wife to give me some ideas, but that's been unsuccessful thus far," Wolff said.

"So we'll break soon for chow," he added, brightening up a bit, "and then wherever the mood takes us."

Related stories from Wichita Eagle