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Shoppers keep registers ringing online, in stores on holiday, Black Friday

Black Friday, historically the starting line of the retail industry's crucial holiday buying season, has become a multiday quest, with shoppers desperate to get their hands on bargains and tough-to-find items keeping cash registers — particularly of the virtual kind — ringing Thursday and Friday.

Shoppers spent $1.93 billion online on Thanksgiving, up 11.5 percent over last year, and another $490 million by 7:30 a.m. on Black Friday, according to Adobe. Thanksgiving Day online sales might have been even bigger if not for deeper price cuts, particularly on items like tablets, TVs and toys, and higher-than expected sales on Wednesday as retailers began offering early online promotions, Adobe said.

But for shoppers like Tony Cardenas, of Milwaukee, the quest remains a foot chase. At a Best Buy store at Harlem Irving Plaza in Norridge early Friday, Cardenas was running on three cups of coffee after scouring three stores on an all-night search for a mini Nintendo Entertainment System Classic Edition — a game system expected to be one of the season's hottest items. Cardenas failed to find the coveted system but picked up a $400 laptop and a TV.

Of the 65 percent of U.S. consumers who planned to shop on Black Friday, 53 percent will buy online, with the rest spending at brick-and-mortar stores, according to an Accenture survey. Many combine the two, standing in stores with their smartphones, comparing in-store prices to online deals.

People shopping on mobile devices spent a record $771 million on Thanksgiving, up nearly 60 percent over last year, which Adobe principal analyst and director Tamara Gaffney attributed in part to consumers surreptitiously clicking "buy" at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Overall, shoppers are expected to spend $655.8 billion this holiday season, up 3.6 percent over last year, according to industry trade group the National Retail Federation.

Shoppers at Chicago-area stores said crowds were bigger Thursday night than Friday morning. When a New Lenox Wal-Mart unveiled its door-busters at 6 p.m., all shopping carts had been claimed and jammed traffic in the aisles. A nearby Target was relatively orderly but running out of discounted Lego sets.

By Black Friday morning the frenzy had cooled, though traffic picked up as the day went on.

"I've seen worse," said Cintya Mejia, of Norridge, at Target with Eloy Galvez, who was buying a $200 40-inch Westinghouse TV for his brother. "A couple of years back, it was crazy."

Wal-Mart was "too crazy" and crowded on Thanksgiving, so Antwan Anderson, decided to shop at Best Buy on Black Friday in hopes of a less frantic experience. He was one of just two people in line at the Lincoln Park store at 7 a.m. Friday.

"I got in line last night at 6 p.m., but the (laptop) I wanted was already sold out," he said. "So I wanted to come back and make sure I get one."

On North Michigan Avenue, about 150 protesters marched along the Magnificent Mile to raise awareness of police misconduct and inequality in Chicago's poorest neighborhoods. It was the second year in a row activists attempted to disrupt Black Friday shopping, though last year's protest drew thousands, following release of video that showed the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager, by a white Chicago police officer.

A loud confrontation broke out between police and demonstrators trying to block access to the Apple, Cole Haan and Nike stores, but protesters obliged when police officers escorting shoppers into Victoria's Secret asked them to let customers pass.

"I don't see it disrupting a whole lot," said Jeff Crockett, of Harrison, Ark., in town visiting with his girlfriend and her daughter. "I guess they're making their point."

One of the longer lines spotted Friday morning on Chicago's Near North Side wasn't at an electronics or toy store but at Binny's, which had a line around the block waiting to buy versions of Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout, released each year on Black Friday.

People near the front of the line had been waiting since about 5:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, and many had traveled hundreds of miles to get their hands on a couple of bottles of the rare beer. Four friends — Matt Mead, Ryan Hardin, Nick Braasch and Joe Snyder — made the trek from Grand Rapids, Mich., equipped with a tent and space heaters so hot that a sleeping bag melted.

Additional data on Thanksgiving and Black Friday spending and store traffic won't be available until later this weekend, but retail analysts predicted a moderate uptick in spending this season, citing low unemployment, a recent ramp-up in retail sales and rising consumer confidence.

"The exciting part is consumers are feeling confident about their economic situation, particularly in Chicago," said Stacy Kemp, a principal at Deloitte. About 41 percent of Chicagoans said their personal financial situation is better than last year, 5 percent higher than the national average. Chicagoans were also slightly more likely than the average American to say they planned to spend more during the holidays than last year, according to Deloitte.

Still unknown is whether a contentious and divisive presidential election will tighten or loosen consumers' grips on their wallets. But some retailers were optimistic the end of the campaign meant consumers would no longer be distracted by politics.

Wal-Mart, Kohl's and Target were upbeat about initial Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales numbers, particularly online.

Target and Kohl's both reported double-digit, record-breaking online sales growth.

"The most encouraging trend I'm seeing is while guests were in our stores shopping for our big door-buster items, they continued to shop multiple categories," said Target CEO Brian Cornell said hours after door-buster sales kicked off Thursday evening.

Apple products were popular and hoverboards were "red-hot," he said.

Kohl's quickly sold out of the Apple Watch, and overall in-store traffic was "solid," CEO Kevin Mansell said.

But for some Black Friday devotees, deals matter less than family tradition.

Chicago sisters Mary Reagan, Sara Rodriguez and Yanira Torres hit Target at the Harlem Irving Plaza mall early Friday to shop for gifts for 15 to 20 children, nieces and nephews.

Poring over ads together is a Thanksgiving ritual. "We all look through the ads, figure out where we're going to go, our game plan," said Reagan.

Kelsey Banas and her mom, Bobi Banas of Long Grove, started shopping at Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills at 2:30 a.m. "It's been a tradition for at least 10 years," Bobi said. "I love getting up early and getting the deals."

Bobi had already purchased a set of bowls for her son's girlfriend that were marked 50 percent off, and said they'd spend about $500 or $600 before they were done Friday.

"We go until 11 a.m.," Kelsey said. "Then we'll go out and have a beer."

Chicago Tribune's Ally Marotti, Juan Perez Jr. and Christy Gutowski and freelance writers Erin Gallagher and Sheryl DeVore contributed.

lzumbach@chicagotribune.com

lschencker@chicagotribune.com

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