Sandy • With temperatures in the 50s and no snow in sight, about the only sign that the Christmas shopping season officially started was the sound of Frosty the Snowman wafting through the crowded corridors of the South Towne Mall in Sandy, music that most of the hundreds of Black Friday shoppers likely did not even notice.
Thousands of Utahns joined an estimated the 69.1 million Americans the National Retail Federation expected to shop on Black Friday this year. They waited in lines to get bargains, placed online orders and braved crowded box scores and malls.
"We've never been to bed," said Darla Weigel about 10 a.m. Friday. She began shopping Thanksgiving night at 9 p.m. and was carrying a couple of packages out of a West Jordan Target at 6748 S. Redwood Road, which had sold out of iPad minis, one of its big Thanksgiving bargains. "The doll house at Kohl's was the best deal we found. We had a great time. We do it every year. It's good mother and daughter time."
One of the largest crowds showed up at Cabela's in Lehi, which opened at 5 a.m. with only one customer at a time being let through the doors.
Cabela's marketing director Melissa Oveson said 3,250 customers came into the store. She estimated that about 2,500 spent the night where the store provided a large video screen showing episodes of Duck Dynasty, campfires, s'more fixings and donut holes. The store gave away 600 gift cards. Overson said the biggest sellers were gun safes, archery sets and ammunition and guns.
"People were happy and having a good time," she said.
Most of Utah stores seemed prepared for crowds, with barriers and portable toilets seen at some locations. At the Salt Lake City Walmart, a security guard and two Salt Lake City police cars could be seen. There was one ugly incident at a Clinton Walmart where a mob of deal-seekers trampled a woman Thursday night. She was not hurt.
Clinton police Lt. Dave Valentine said that around 8 p.m., store employees brought out a pallet of items, which a store worker said were tablets. As the cellophane was cut off, an estimated 200 people rushed forward to snatch the tablets, knocking the woman over and stepping on her. Valentine said six officers were available to assist with crowd control until midnight. In retrospect, he said the store probably could have used more security.
It was a big night for Walmart. The Arkansas-based chain reported that more than 5 million customers took advantage of its one-hour guarantee, expanded from three to 21 items this year. From 6 to 10 p.m, the big box store chain processed more than 10 million register transactions at its store. Walmart.com recorded 400 million page views.
Sherri Wright of Sandy started shopping at 5:30 a.m. Friday.
"I don't believe in going out on Thanksgiving," she said. "My sister and I always do Black Friday. It's really a fun thing."
Wright said the experience has changed in the last two years when stores began opening on Thanksgiving. She said stores were a bit quieter this year.
Sandy and Amber Mansfield of West Valley had been out since 5 a.m. and visited six stores. They said the most crowded was R.C. Willey, which was offering an iPad with a $100 gift card.
Some of those serving the public worked hard, long hours.
Dave Hammond, owner of Hammond's Toys at the South Towne Mall, worked midnight to 8 p.m. Morgan Kellar, a clerk at J.C. Penney at the South Towne Mall, began one shift at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and got off at 12:30 a.m. She returned to work at 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift Friday before going to a second job. She said a few fellow employees worked from 7 p.m. to 2 p.m.
"We were pretty busy," she said. "People were in good spirits and excited to deal with the chaos."
Macy's South Towne worker Pam Pedersen said it was busy from midnight when the mall opened until 2 a.m. with another rush from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. She said the longest lines she saw were at Victoria's Secret at midnight, where the line wrapped around the store three times.
Many others shopped from the comfort of their home computers.
Utah-based Overstock.com received and processed 100,000 orders Friday with electronics and high-end jewelry big sellers this year.
"It's a crazy day, but we are very thankful," said Overstock.com's CEO Patrick Byrne, adding that he can't imagine why people battle the crowds at packed malls when they can get the same deals online.
The National Retail Federation estimated that holiday sales will increase 3.9 percent this year to $602 billion. The group estimated that 33 million Americans shopped on Thanksgiving Day and that 140 million will be out between Thursday and Sunday.
"By all appearances and according to CEOs I've spoken with across the retail spectrum, it looks like the early opening of stores on Thanksgiving and the traditional start of holiday shopping on Black Friday is breaking new records, including what companies are seeing through their digital channels," said National Retail Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay. "The key take away at this point is that the real winners are in fact the consumers, who are recognizing more savings through competitive pricing and great promotions being offered.
"If there was any question this morning as to whether the Thanksgiving shopping tradition still resonates with Americans, we can simply look at the news coming from those who opened their doors to millions of eager shoppers last night," he said.
Salt Lake Tribune staff writer Matthew Piper contributed to this report.