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Manatee shoppers get early jump on Black Friday

MANATEE — Early reports from Black Friday and Thanksgiving Day shoppers indicated more intense traffic than last year at Ellenton Premium Outlets and lighter traffic at DeSoto Square Mall.

Ellenton’s larger crowds may have been due to the 55 retail stores that opened for the first time on Thanksgiving Day. Some shoppers reported that when they arrived at midnight, the mall’s traditional Black Friday opening time, the parking lot was already packed and lines had formed at many stores.

And as predicted by the National Retail Federation, most Black Friday shoppers were in search of bargains for themselves or their families, rather than gifts.

“This is my Christmas present to myself,” said Tyler Fushikoshi at about 4:30 a.m., of the $1,000 Movado watch he purchased for $500 earlier.

While Ellenton may have drawn the greater crowds, some DeSoto Square Mall shoppers purposely chose to avoid the crush at the outlet mall. Kristine Reeves and her mother Ann Theurer, who have visited DeSoto Square every Black Friday for the past 16 years, are as loyal to the mall as they are to the Manatee Hurricanes whose matching T-shirts the two wore.

“We wanted to avoid the crowds, and we’ve heard the parking is horrendous at Ellenton,” said Reeves, as she purchased a set of body lotions at Bath & Body Works.

The madness started late Thanksgiving night.

Toys R Us on Cortez Road in Bradenton had a line wrapped around the building when its doors opened at 9 p.m. Thursday, shoppers said.

At midnight, there was still a line as the store was only letting in new shoppers as others left. It was taking about 20 minutes to get through the line and into the store at that point.

Once inside, however, the line to check out weaved in and out of aisles and all the way to the back of the store. Estimates on the wait were anywhere from one to two and a half hours, shoppers on line said.

Before 6 a.m. Thursday, a line of about 40 shoppers were prepared to file into Kmart on Manatee Avenue West.

Kmart and other retailers, including Big Lots and Walmart, offered Thanksgiving hours to accommodate residents who wanted to get a jump on Black Friday -- the day that’s considered the start of the Christmas shopping season and the busiest shopping day of the year.

“We’ve had a nice crowd,” Kmart store manager Jack Nicklaus said Thursday. “Customers like it when we’re open on Thanksgiving.”

Some traveled to get deals seen in the newspaper. Others were just happy a major chain was open to get personal items.

“I’m going to my daughters’ (home), ” said Ina Connant, grasping a poinsettia with two grandsons in tow.

Big Lots manager Glenn Hosburgh noticed a steady stream of customers in his store from Thursday morning well into the afternoon. Big Lots opened at 7 a.m. Normally, the retail chain opens at 9 a.m., he said.

“We’ve been busy. Some people were here for personal items. We had a sale on recliners,” he said. “Others were here for early Christmas shopping.”

Both store managers said hours could fluctuate for Friday and throughout the holiday season to give shoppers more time.

“We’ll have tons of good sales,” Nicklaus said. “Just review the ads when they come out in the Bradenton Herald.”

Hosburgh added, “Customers can look on to see ads that are coming early.”

Here’s when some major local retailers opened for Black Friday shopping:

DeSoto Square mall: Doors opened at 3 a.m. Black Friday, with most stores opening at 4 a.m.

Bealls: Opened at midnight Black Friday.

Best Buy: Opened at midnight Black Friday.

JCPenney: Opened at 4 a.m. Black Friday.

Kmart: Opened at 6 a.m. Thanksgiving Day, 5 a.m. Black Friday.

Kohl’s: Opened at midnight Black Friday.

Macy’s: Opened at midnight Black Friday.

Sears: Opened at 4 a.m. Black Friday.

Target: Opened at midnight Black Friday.

Walmart: Opened at 10 p.m. Thanksgiving Day.

-- Business writer Chris Hawes contributed to this report.