A strangely quiet Black Friday morning in the Bay Area quickly dissolved into the familiar scene of mall mayhem, as consumers appeared to recover from late-night Thanksgiving shopping sprees and turkey hangovers and by lunchtime had descended on stores in full force.
The crowds of shoppers Thursday and then again Friday gave some retailers hope they'll have one of their busiest weekends ever, easing concerns of a sluggish season amid larger economic worries.
"This holiday seems to have gotten off to an encouraging start," said Dave Ackerman, director of marketing at Livermore Premium Outlets, where lines of shoppers snaked around buildings and the 2,300-space parking lot nearly filled by midday Friday.
Edgar Gutierrez, who was visiting the Bay Area from Mexico, started his shopping spree at 9 p.m. Thursday and planned to shop to the bitter end of Black Friday. He took a break in the food court at Livermore Premium Outlets, accompanied by a few friends and a mountain of shopping bags, before moving on to San Francisco to buy more clothes.
"We'll find out if we have the closet space when we get back home," he said.
Not all shoppers were as hard-core as he was and took a longer break between shopping runs. "People who did that late-night shopping will run home to get a little rest before coming back," said Michele Schembre, vice president and senior general manager of Westfield San Francisco Center.
And come back they did, after a nap or breakfast, flooding mall hallways and wedging their way into packed stores, searching for the best bargains on shoes, jackets, tablets and video games. With no time to waste -- this year is the shortest holiday season in 11 years with just 26 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas -- shoppers hit the stores early and hit them hard.
San Francisco resident Karen Ramirez was on a Black Friday tour of Bay Area shops with some friends. By the time she made it to the 130-store Livermore center Friday, she had spent more than $2,000, mostly on shoes.
"We're a total mess," she said. "We waited two weeks to get paid today and it's gone in two hours."
Retailers were cautiously optimistic, as it seemed by Friday afternoon that the Thanksgiving openings may have given them the boost they wanted with early sales, and motivated consumers to shop around the clock.
Matt Ehrie, district vice president at Westfield Valley Fair in Santa Clara, said he expects traffic this shopping season to beat last year's, with shoppers taking advantage of extended store hours.
Retailers have to cram a lot of sales into a short window, with six fewer shopping days this season. The shortened calendar could cost merchants $1.5 billion in sales this year, according to Adobe (ADBE). Retailers are scrambling to prevent that shortfall -- many rely on the holidays for 40 percent of their annual business -- by stretching out the shopping season. Despite complaints from consumers that retailers were intruding on the holiday and forcing employees to miss out on family time, the bargains that rolled out Thursday were too good for shoppers to pass up.
"We hosted Thanksgiving and our friends left at midnight. We put the kids to bed and said 'Let's go,'" said Sheryl Domingo of Belmont, who started her shop-till-you-drop Friday with a 3 a.m. trip to Target with her mother.
Crystal Nguyen and Angelina Swenor, students at Oak Grove High School in San Jose, were curled up on a bench in front of Valley Fair waiting for a ride home Friday morning. Nguyen pointed to bags stuffed with items from Forever 21, Hot Topic and the Disney Store and said, "We did an all-nighter."
And they had plenty of company. Some customers waited three hours Thursday evening to nab deals at Juicy Couture at Livermore Premium Outlets. By 3 a.m., in Pleasanton's Stoneridge Mall, some shoppers slept while they clutched shopping bags.
"People rushed over when they had their Thanksgiving dinner," packing the store until about 11 p.m., said Alexia Divittorio, sales manager at Best Buy in Santana Row.
Westfield Valley Fair had a rush at 8 p.m., when stores including Macy's opened. It saw its biggest crowds between midnight and 2 a.m., Ehrie said, including a line of more than 100 people who waited in front of Victoria's Secret and cheered when the doors opened at midnight. Things quieted down briefly, and parking lots emptied out by about 7 a.m. Friday, but the shoppers were back by late morning at Valley Fair and at shopping centers across the Bay Area.
The Microsoft store manager at Westfield San Francisco Center said the mall was dead for the store's 7 a.m. opening Friday but by lunchtime, there was barely standing room between customers waiting to play the new Xbox and test out a Surface tablet.
Cold temperatures didn't deter eager holiday shoppers in other parts of the country, with the National Retail Federation reporting strong turnouts Thanksgiving evening as many shoppers braved frigid temperatures to line up on retailer's sidewalks.
Retailers also saw huge sales online, with about 20 percent year-over-year growth in online shopping both Thursday and Friday, according to IBM forecasts. San Francisco and San Jose were among the top 20 cities in the country for online purchasing activity.
Adobe predicts online sales on Black Friday will reach $1.6 billion, a 17 percent increase over last year, and $1.1 billion on Thanksgiving, a 21 percent increase.
As in years past, violence marred the shopping in some spots around the country. Shoppers cutting in line at a Walmart sparked a fight in Southern California, where at least two people were arrested and a police officer's hand was injured trying to break up the fight. Another shopper was shot, but not seriously injured, in Las Vegas as he tried to carry a big-screen TV out of the store, and a police officer in Illinois shot an alleged shoplifter outside Kohl's on Thursday night.
In the Bay Area, things were a bit quieter, with fatigue the greatest trial that most shoppers faced.
Raymond Jaks of San Francisco waited in line outside Burberry at Livermore Premium Outlets while his girlfriend shopped at Kate Spade New York. Jaks was ready to go -- the couple was about eight hours into a shopping marathon that had started at midnight.
"I feel exhausted," Jaks said. "I'm not showing it, but I'm a little mad at my girlfriend."
Staff writers Jeremy Thomas, Bonnie Eslinger, Pete Carey, Elisabeth Nardi and George Avalos and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Heather Somerville at 510-208-6413. Follow her at Twitter.com/heathersomervil.