The parking lot was packed. Some shoppers, bundled in winter coats, hustled from one store to the next while others clutched hot coffee to their chests as they waited in line for Black Friday savings.

“Who knew there was a line,” asked Susan Wholey of Bethel Park as she and her daughter, Kate, warmed up in Designer Consignor.

The Wholeys were surprised by the long, cold wait to get into the Nike store.

“We thought we would zip in and out,” Susan Wholey said. “That’s not the case.”

Shannon Riggar of Connellsville said she, too, was surprised to find herself waiting in line outside Under Armour.

“We didn’t have to wait in line for anything last year,” she said.

This year was the busiest Black Friday in two years, according to Nicole Baculik, general manager of Tanger Outlets.

“Traffic is definitely higher than it was last year and for 2019,” she said. “At 5:30 this morning when I got here, some of the stores ... had lines. The stores I’ve spoken with ... all said they didn’t expect to see the crowds that they saw today. They’re thrilled. I’m thrilled.”

And shoppers were thrilled, too.

“This is the first year in 12 years that I’ve done Black Friday shopping,” said Mary Jo Lowller, who drove an hour from Uniontown to take advantage of sales at Tanger Outlets. “It’s not as crazy and hectic like it was in the 80s – rush lines, people camping out the night before. I think it’s a lot calmer.”

Crowded but calm is how Baculik summed up the Black Friday crowds.

“People are in a really good mood,” she said. “They’re sort of just strolling along. It’s more laid back. It’s not like this big rush.”

There was nothing rushed about the shopping experience inside Washington Crown Center Mall Friday morning, where shoppers popped into stores offering Black Friday deals and perused the vendors set up for the Family Marketplace.

“We’re doing pretty good here this morning,” said Civil Knox, assistant marketing director at Washington Crown Center. “I really can’t tell you what I was expecting because COVID, because of online shopping. We had no expectation whatsoever. It’s gone well.”

Christine Ferralli and her daughters, Allison and Alaine, were glad to be back at the mall after last year’s pandemic put their tradition on hold. The family was in the area from Virginia visiting Christine’s mother-in-law, Judy Ferralli, of Washington.

The women have shopped together nearly every Black Friday for years.

“Last year, we didn’t come at all because of the pandemic,” said Christine. “It’s nice to be able to actually go to the stores again.”

Phoebe Campbell, of Washington, and her grandkids Caden and Carys Miller also enjoyed being back at the mall Friday.

“There’s a little more people here than I thought,” said Campbell. “Last time I was in here, there was nobody.”

Caden Miller said he believes online shopping has changed Black Friday’s role during the holidays, a sentiment shared by Kevin Werner, who said early and online-only deals make venturing out on Black Friday unnecessary for some.

But for many – as evidenced by Friday’s crowds – Black Friday is still an experience.

Like the Ferrallis, Jayme Medlin sat last year out. This year, she brought her husband, Darnell, and their daughter, Serenity, shopping for the Black Friday experience.

“The year before last, it was elbow to elbow. This year ... you weren’t fighting over your merchandise if it was the last one,” Medlin said with a laugh. “This is (Darnell)’s first year actually going Black Friday shopping. He didn’t get the full-on hype experience.”

That was OK for him.

Darnell was able to take his time picking out gifts for Serenity.

While Knox smiled at folks like the Medlins milling about the mall, Lou Ann Hunchuck, general manager of Uniontown Mall in Fayette County, watched a steady stream of shoppers stop into their favorite stores.

“I was hoping for this,” said Hunchuck, who extended the mall hours from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. for Black Friday. “The halls have been busy. People are more confident, to a point, to come out, since many are vaccinated. Everyone seems to be happy shoppers. I’m glad how it’s turned out so far.”

Hunchuck said Uniontown Mall welcomed several locally-owned businesses to the mall this year, and she hopes “that this Black Friday and through the weekend is going to be profitable for them.”

Like Stacey Kadlecick of Bull Creek Candle Company said from her booth at the Washington Crown Center Mall, you make more money being open than you do sitting at home.

“If you set your expectations here and they go above, good,” said Knox. “Hopefully this is the beginning of something good.”

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