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Black Friday holiday shopping rush in full swing in Sonoma County

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Macy’s would like to clarify: “doorbuster” is a discount for early- bird shoppers on Black Friday.

It is not a suggestion.

That distinction seemed unclear on Friday morning to a group of chilled customers at the Coddington Mall Macy’s, who’d gathered outside the Santa Rosa store’s northern entrance to take advantage of its day after Thanksgiving deals. When those doors did not open on schedule at 6 a.m., some shoppers began thumping on the glass.

“Well, it was 6:02,” said a woman holding two full shopping bags. “And it was cold out there.”

By 6:10 a.m., some eight minutes after the doors opened, Lily Hernandez stood beaming at a nearby checkout counter. A stack of shoeboxes teetered on the counter as she completed her purchase. Her haul: five pairs for less than $100. And she’d only just begun to shop.

Hernandez joined thousands of shoppers across Sonoma County and the nation who rose early Friday for the traditional, official kickoff of the holiday shopping season. Consumers nationwide are expected to spend $730  billion from today until Christmas on holiday purchases, up 4% from 2018.

Clutching Starbucks cups, Stacey Ankrom and her friend, Collette Johnson, engaged a voice- activated Lie Detector Game on a table near the Macy’s shoe department. Johnson was carrying Star Wars and Toy Story Legos for her son.

They’d already been to the Home Depot, where Ankrom stocks up every year on the store’s 99 cent poinsettias. This year she got 24.

Between online sales and stores opening on Thanksgiving Day proper — as this Macy’s had at 5  p.m., remaining open until 2 a.m. next morning — Black Friday “isn’t what it used to be,” said Ankrom, of Santa Rosa.

The two friends had driven to the nearby Home Depot shortly after 5 a.m., only to learn that it didn’t open for another hour. “I was a little perturbed,” said Johnson, who blamed her friend for the confusion. “I basically told her she was dead to me.”

Then they both cracked up laughing.

Four miles south, a line of about 80 people had formed outside the Best Buy on Santa Rosa Avenue, which opened at 8 a.m.

Among the shopping crowd inside the store was Petaluma’s Jennifer Baumsteiger, who was with two of her sisters and four of their daughters. They’d already been to Target, Old Navy and Lowe’s — where poinsettias were available for a mere 50 cents.

The consensus among the sisters was that Black Friday definitely has lost some of its pizazz.

“We miss the rush of rushing in with everyone else,” declared a sister in a John Carroll University sweatshirt.

More than 165 million people are expected to shop over this five-day holiday weekend, starting with Thanksgiving and ending with Cyber Monday, according to a survey released this week by the National Retail Federation.

A surprisingly large fraction of those consumers thronged the Petaluma Village Premium Outlets on Friday. By 12:30 p.m., the line of southbound motorists on Petaluma Boulevard waiting to turn left into the outlets was backed up more than a mile. Upon finally arriving, they were directed to overflow parking in a dirt lot adjacent to Highway 101.

Plenty of people arrived with a list and a plan. Others were, as retiree Craig Crease described himself, “kinda laissez-faire about it.” But his granddaughters attacked the outlets with ninja-like focus and purpose — they made a beeline for Claire’s, a jewelry store for teens and tweens, “and hit it hard,” he said. Crease himself wandered into the Van Heusen store and bought a couple of sweaters.

Theirs was less a strategic, intentional Christmas shopping exercise than a three-generational family outing on the last sunny day “before it starts to rain,” said his daughter, Heidi Oelman of San Anselmo.

Despite the Black Friday T-shirt she was rocking at the Petaluma outlets, Rachael Peaty of Santa Rosa did far more socializing than consuming. Shopping on the day after Thanksgiving has been a family tradition “since I was 3,” the 33-year-old said. So diluted has Black Friday become, in her opinion, that she spends most of that time “walking, talking, seeing what’s out there.”

She had, at least, made one purchase. What was in the Lane Bryant bag she was holding?

“Undergarments,” she said.

Unlike those items, nearly a quarter of all holiday season purchases already had been made before Thanksgiving, according to the U.S. retail federation survey. That’s thanks, in part, to people like Christina Middleton of Santa Rosa, who’d said, earlier in the day, “I’ve done most of my shopping already.”

Then what was she doing at Macy’s before sunrise?

She was mopping up, looking for stocking stuffers. “For us,” she said, motioning to her daughter and a 20- something man still wearing his pajama pants, “Black Friday is more of a tradition. It’s just our thing that we do.”

“We certainly don’t do it on Thanksgiving. People should be with their families. I’m not going to support that.”

But more and more stores are electing to open their doors on that holiday. The line outside Best Buy on Friday morning was about half as long as the one that formed at 5 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. And the consumer electronics store did a booming business right up until they shut the doors at 2 o’clock this morning.

“If a typical day is $175,000 or $225,000,” one floor salesman said, “last night we did about four times that.”

You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at 707-521-5214 or austin.murphy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ausmurph88.

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