On Black Friday, Outlets Minimize Midnight Mayhem

According to Keri Branch, Director of Marketing, Philadelphia Premium Outlets, there is a different vibe in shopping there, generated by its neighborhood look and feel. It's a bit slower paced, she claims. A bit calmer, a bit more intimate. And these differences make themselves immediately obvious on one of the most celebrated - and potentially stressful - shopping days of the year: Black Friday.

This isn't any night of shopping; it's just before midnight on the eve of Black Friday.

From the onset, the experience is more friendly than frenzied and more party than panic.

Take the parking lot, for example. At 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving night, cars are trolling the lanes looking for spaces, but the wait isn't long, and there are no displays of temper. Car horns are silent, patience is rewarded and there's not a rude gesture to be had.

Entering the mall itself, the crowds are thick but there's a festive atmosphere. The Nike outlet, for example, features a DJ spinning thumpy, up-tempo tunes. Other retailers keep waiting customers happy by serving cocoa and trivia questions, rewarding correct answers with extra discounts. Mall-wide, store employees are dressed in holiday finery as they busily attend to customers and keep a steady stream of stock on the shelves over the next 28 hours. A park-and-ride shuttle brings visitors in from nearby neighborhoods, and riders are rewarded with hot coffee, gift bags and percent-off coupons.

"This is our Super Bowl," says Branch. "This is the big one. We spend months preparing for it. But the effort is worth it."

The draw - significant savings every day, augmented by Black Friday bargain offers - is enough to bring crowds from near and far. Cars in the aforementioned parking lot sport licenses from Maryland, Ohio and Tennessee. And Drexel University has sponsored three busloads of international students from its campus, all eager to embrace for themselves an experience they cannot have at home: the yearly consumer cornucopia that kicks off the holiday shopping season.

But the majority of the plates are from Pennsylvania. Tina and Janelle, shopping buddies from York, Pa., are all smiles as they check out the stock at Vera Bradley. "We had Thanksgiving dinner at around 1 or 2 p.m.," Tina says. After cleaning up, they hopped in their car at 9:30, and 90 minutes later, were ticking purchased gifts off their lists. Their husbands? "They were home watching some football game or other," they laugh.

Black Friday at Philadelphia Premium Outlets

It's midnight now: officially Black Friday. The queue outside the Kate Spade outlet is 30-60 minutes long, but none of the patrons waiting seem to mind. They'll save hundreds on the banana-yellow, lime-green and cherry-red designer bags that hang in display like giant ripened fruit. One shopper reportedly left with 12 purses, each deeply discounted. "I'm seeing a lot of ‘two-for-you/two-for-me' purchases," says the manager, meaning that bargain-hunters are fulfilling their own wish lists as well as those of their friends and family.

All that buying and selling takes fortification, and one of the busiest nooks within the mall is the food court. For visitors who had their drumsticks, stuffing and pie in the early afternoon, it's time to re-fuel. Branch reports seeing one visitor open her bag and remove a plastic container with turkey inside. When her family arrived with Chinese, she nibbled away at her white meat, Thanksgiving as a moveable feast. The merchants, too, must keep up their strength; therefore, many store managers provide their employees with potluck suppers, pizza delivery boxes and, at dawn, breakfast items and coffee.

At 1 a.m., the demographics begin to shift slightly. The families and children - yes, there are kids accompanying parents on these jaunts, rolling in strollers or toted in baby carriers - begin to give way to twentysomething BFFs. "The girls will have dinner with their families," Branch explains. "And then go to a movie or something. And then they'll come here at one, two, three o'clock in the morning and shop together."

In the post-Black-Friday weeks, the great sales and warm shopping experience will continue, says Branch. Visitors can expect strolling carolers to fill the air with the choral sounds of the season. And sharp-eyed youngsters may spot a jolly elf in a red suit and white beard.

Black Friday at Philadelphia Premium Outlets

When it comes to positive experiences with holiday shopping, Philadelphia Premium Outlets, like the other MontCo merchants, have it in the bag.

The perfect ending to an extended shopping jaunt is the ability to review your lists - and calculate your savings - in the comfort of a nearby hotel room. For a complete list of accommodations ready to pamper you in seasonal sumptuousness, check out our website.