Morning shoppers find mass chaos at Alderwood

LYNNWOOD — The end of Thanksgiving and the kickoff of holiday shopping came a moment after 12 a.m. Friday with a tsunami of running, screaming shoppers bursting into Alderwood mall.

By the time early birds arrived for big stores’ door-buster deals at 4 and 5 a.m., thousands of customers already had left with shopping bags in hand.

The countdown to midnight madness at the mall included live music, jostling for parking spaces and even minor traffic jams just hours after most people finished their turkey and pie. Inside the mall, nearly 80 stores prepared to open.

“We wanted to stand out in the market. Black Friday’s a big shopping day, and many stores try to do big things,” said Koren Spas, the mall’s marketing manager. Alderwood was one of 11 malls owned by General Growth Properties that opened just after midnight. Here’s how the early-hours shopping spree progressed at the mall:

12 a.m.

Sixteen-year-old Julie Phillips and friends from Lynnwood High School stood in The Terraces food court, clutching stacks of brochures about the “Rockin’ Shoppin’ Eve” that was about to begin. They were raising money for their school by passing out the information.

“This gives me an excuse to stay up to 3 a.m., then I get to go shopping,” Phillips said. When told that thousands of people were waiting just the outside the doors she faced, she had just two words: “That’s intense.”

In a flash, the doors opened and shoppers screamed with excitement and stampeded inside.

“Oh, God!” Phillips uttered as she and the other students struggled to catch the bargain hunters’ attention long enough to hand them brochures.

Five minutes later, the most popular spots — The Disney Store, Aeropostale, Zumiez and Champs — already had big lines out their doors. By 12:30 a.m., a bottleneck outside Aeropostale forced security and event personnel to set up a more organized line into the store, Spas said.

The mall’s main thoroughfares were sometimes unpassable in the first hour, when the mall estimated as many as 20,000 people came through the doors. Extra Lynnwood Police officers responded to help manage the crowd.

1 a.m.

By the time Black Friday was 60 minutes old, the jam-packed stores convinced hundreds of people to head for the mall’s exits, many empty-handed.

“I can’t even get into a store,” complained Sharon Thompson of Issaquah, who decided to leave after one of her sons got knocked down in a tight crowd of shoppers. “It was scary. I think we might get some Cinnabons and go home.”

Lea Brinkman of Mountlake Terrace said she had expected a lot of people, but “not a wall” of humanity. She and her boyfriend were considering whether to leave.

At a nearby food court table, Marysville resident Jeff Weinstock communicated via walkie-talkie radios with his family members. He’d just grabbed a great deal at the Bath &Body Works store.

“This is absolute pandemonium compared to the (Tulalip) outlet mall,” Weinstock said. “This is crazy. You can’t move.”

Spas said the mall’s security tried to deal with the gridlock in the center of the mall as fast as possible. The most serious incident reported in the mall during that time was a fainting woman, she added, though several store managers also reported higher-than-usual theft rates during the initial opening rush.

Other shoppers took the moments of chaos in stride, saying the fun and the discounts made it worthwhile.

“Yes!” judged 16-year-old Sydnie Stemm of Lynnwood. She and her friend snatched up $15 vests at Wet Seal.

Jack Walkley and Michael Watters of Everett, both Washington State University students, picked up Coug wear and other T-shirts. They were happy with the deals, though they experienced some pushing and shoving.

While the morning’s first wave into the mall seemed to include many high school and college students who wanted to experience the spectacle instead of just shop, serious shoppers lurked.

Not everyone was shopping. At the Regis Salon, Lindsey Forsythe of Seattle leaned back as stylist Aurelio Ayala began shampooing her hair. She was the fourth customer the salon had in its first hour, Ayala said.

2 a.m.

Rita Hinkley of Monroe and Christina Billings of Shoreline were at a food court table, leafing through the advertisement flyers to plot their sale-finding journey. They got to Alderwood at 10 p.m. Thursday.

“We sat outside with our Starbucks. It was really fun. We decided to be crazy for the night,” said Hinkley, adding that she and friends have done Black Friday shopping marathons for years.

Though she had big bags full of goods bought on sale, the tradition is all about the fun, Hinkley said.

“If you come for the deals, it’s not worth it,” she said.

She and her cohorts agreed the Alderwood event was chaotic.

“All of the years my friends and I have gone shopping, we’ve never seen it this bad,” said Maria Reber of Monroe.

The trio of women found some stores that were advertised as being open at midnight were not. That same situation led to a dozen people waiting outside a GameStop store for six hours in hopes of getting a Wii game console.

Many merchants enjoyed the crowded stores, however. Becky Keithley, manager of Fred Meyer Jewelers, said she was glad to be open for the event.

“Very much so, this was more than I anticipated,” she said. By 2:15, her store was running low on its special sale items.

At the Black Pearl Teahouse in the outdoor Village area of the mall, owner Lokelani Stringfellow served up hot tea to chilly shoppers. She was enthusiastic about the midnight opening.

“Pretty much the consensus was, ‘Why not have a party?’” she said. “We’re really excited. We wait all year for Christmas to come.”

3 a.m.

Three hours into Black Friday, most of the mall’s previously jammed wings had cleared out greatly. There still were plenty of shoppers, but it also was easier to move around. Aeropostale and The Disney Store still boasted big lines.

As some shoppers had gone home, others had settled into chairs in the mall’s lounging areas to rest. Many migrated to the food court, where it’s possible to dine on grilled sub sandwiches, Mexican food or a hot dog on a stick even at this wee hour.

Kristel Baker of Bonney Lake paused, several filled shopping bags at her feet, while her husband grabbed Starbucks coffee drinks. She said it took 90 minutes to make a purchase at her first stop in the mall, the PacSun store. In contrast, Aeropostale’s line system made that a relatively quick stop, she said. How were the discounts?

“I would say there was nothing really wowing. About average, I guess,” Baker said.

By 3:20, several dozen people had begun gathering outside J.C. Penney’s closed entrance to the mall. Janell Sabol of Mukilteo and her mother, Linda Jerome, were near the front of the line, waiting to snag a free mini-snowglobe when the store opened at 4 a.m. The two already had spent an hour getting through The Disney Store.

At 3:45, 15 minutes early, J.C. Penney opened its doors, eliciting a small cheer from the crowd, which had swelled by then to a few hundred people. The first shoppers emerged with their free snowglobes four minutes later.

4 a.m.

With one of the mall’s big anchor stores opened, a small crowd started gathering on the other end of the complex, near Sears, which was opening at 5 a.m. Many of the younger shoppers were gone, gradually being replaced by a new wave of serious morning shoppers. Spas, the Alderwood marketing manager, said she expected a large number of customers to arrive between 5 and 6 a.m., with crowds building again the rest of Friday.

Despite the sometimes-overwhelming crowds and some glitches, Spas declared the event a “huge success.” Alderwood tentatively plans to do it again next year.

Back at Fred Meyer Jewelers, Keithley had just consumed her first energy drink since opening up the store. She showed no signs of slowing down, however.

“I have what, 12 more hours? Yeah, I’m good,” she said.

Reporter Eric Fetters: 425-339-3453 or

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