By Bay City News Service
Thousands of shoppers crowded into malls and businesses throughout the Bay Area Friday in search of Black Friday bargains.
The hunt for holiday discounts was in full swing throughout the Bay Area by afternoon, when many shopping centers reported peak shopping traffic. Some Bay Area malls and big box stores saw shoppers lining up outside before midnight to snag the best deals.
A flood of shoppers surged into Bay Area malls as early as 5 a.m., and mall parking lots filled by the afternoon.
In San Francisco, crowds of shoppers bubbled up from the BART station at the Westfield Mall on Powell Street and into the shopping center in the afternoon.
"We definitely had a big influx of shoppers - people from Union Square made their way over here," Westfield San Francisco Marketing Director Amy Benson said.
As of 4 p.m., she said the mall had already seen a higher number of shoppers compared to last year's Black Friday counts.
About a dozen stores with entrances on the street opened their doors at 5 a.m., while the majority of the mall's stores opened at 7 a.m., said Benson.
An employee at American Eagle Outfitters said that customer crowds stayed steady from the moment doors opened this morning.
Amber Asaly, a sales associate at the mall's Fossil store, said that just getting to work was far more hectic than usual.
"I had to wait five minutes for an elevator," she said.
Long lines of shoppers looking for a midday energy boost formed at the shopping center's food and beverage shops. Available chairs and benches were filled with people, and some even grabbed spots on the ground to take a break from the action.
One shopper, 55-year-old Steve Raphel of Walnut Creek, waited in the food court this afternoon for family members to return from their shopping sprees. He said today's crowds were about what he expected.
"You just have to be patient," he said.
Other shoppers today glimpsed free entertainment, with Cirque de Soleil giving hourly performances in front of Bloomingdale's and a holiday light show displayed in the mall's overhead dome twice hourly in the late afternoon and evening, according to Benson.
At the Westfield Oakridge Mall in San Jose, hungry early-morning shoppers were given free Luna bars to help keep awake.
And at Sun Valley Shopping Center in Concord, thousands waited outside the mall for early-bird deals, said Kim Trupiano, the mall's marketing director.
Food purveyors there saw some of the longest lines, as did department stores such as Macy's and JC Penny, and clothing retailers H&M and Forever 21, Trupiano said.
She said she spotted some shoppers loading strollers full of shopping bags, and one woman who tugged overflowing Macy's bags along the ground.
"People are really shopping today," she said. "I think it's a good indicator that people are willing to spend."
Some shoppers in San Francisco said they weren't searching for specific deals, but turned out today to stock up on holiday gifts while spending time with family.
Debi Cheek, 58, and her daughter Christa Cheek, 31, headed to San Francisco from Modesto in keeping with a family Black Friday shopping tradition.
"We didn't have a list," said Debi Cheek, who carried a few Macy's shopping bags.
"I don't think you could give me a good enough deal to shop on Thanksgiving," she said.
Some Bay Area residents took that sentiment a step further, following a national campaign called "Buy Nothing Day," a stand against the massive wave of consumerism spurred by Black Friday discounts.
A website dedicated to the movement describes Black Friday as "your special day to unshop, unspend and unwind. Relax and do nothing for the economy and for yourself -- at least for a single day."
Others used yesterday's momentum to protest big box retailer Walmart, which union organizers say violates workers' rights.
One of those protests attracted hundreds of people today at a San Leandro Walmart at 15555 Hesperian Blvd. The demonstration drew members of national and local workers' rights groups, including Jobs with Justice, the San Francisco Progressive Workers' Alliance and the Chinese Progressive Association.
San Francisco County Supervisor Eric Mar also joined the protest to show his support for workers' rights.
"It's a huge institution and I strongly support organizing store by store," Mar said, calling yesterday's demonstration was "one of the most spirited Black Friday rallies" he has attended, complete with a marching band, speeches and songs.
Demonstrations were also scheduled yesterday at Walmart stores in Richmond, Fairfield and San Jose.