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Black Friday crowds return to downtown Chicago — mostly masked and waiting their turn to get inside stores

A survey by the consulting firm Deloitte found that Chicago area shoppers, buoyed by improved personal finances, plan to increase holiday spending from a year ago.

Shoppers crowd the Magnificent Mile on Black Friday.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Goofy dads mugged for cell phone photos in front of the State Street Macy’s famous windows. Babies napped in strollers laden with shopping bags. And the frenetic drumming of the Bucket Boys provided a welcome soundtrack.

It felt like a more typical Black Friday in downtown Chicago — something local market analysts had been predicting.

Last year on the Magnificent Mile, it was so quiet you could hear the echo of coins rattling in the cups of the homeless. But there were still differences Friday from the more typical annual downtown pilgrimage: masks and, at many stores, limits on how many could enter at any one time.

Justin Ramos, 41, has been coming downtown every year to see Santa Claus at Marshall Fields, now Macy’s. For the first time, he and his three children had to make a reservation to enter Santaland. And they had to keep their mask on when visiting Santa.

But Ramos had few complaints.

“To be honest, the process was much more streamlined,” he said. “Within minutes of our reservation, we were checked in and we had easy access to see Santa. In years past, we’ve waited in lines up to two hours long.”

Liz Sarwar and Sophia from Kalamazoo, Mich. carry shopping bags along North Michigan Avenue on Black Friday.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

A survey by the consulting firm Deloitte found that Chicago area shoppers, buoyed by improved personal finances, plan to increase holiday spending from a year ago. The average consumer in the survey planned to spend $1,405 on the holidays, up about a third from 2020, according to Deloitte, which conducts its survey annually.

Nationally, holiday sales are also expected to grow this year. The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, predicts sales will increase between 8.5% and 10.5% for the November and December period.

Holiday sales increased about 8% in 2020 when shoppers, locked down during the early part of the pandemic, spent their money on pajamas and home goods.

While Black Friday has a strong hold on Americans’ imaginations as a day of crazed shopping, it has lost stature over the last decade as stores opened on Thanksgiving and shopping shifted to Amazon and other online retailers.

Stores diluted the day’s importance further by advertising Black Friday sales on more and more days.

The pandemic led many retailers to close stores on Thanksgiving Day and push discounts on their websites, starting as early as October. That’s continuing this year, although there are deals in stores as well.

Rob Karr, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, noted that consumers are concerned about delays in filling online orders. “Everybody has been hit by supply chain issues,” he said.

Roads were crowded around Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, where many shoppers were choosing the store experience and avoiding uncertainty about deliveries, according to Heather Lloyd, Woodfield’s marketing director.

“We are happy with the traffic thus far and are very encouraged to see shoppers with lots of shopping bags and lines at retailers, which is always a good sign and indicator of a busy holiday shopping season,” she said.

Liz Sarwar, 43, was out shopping Friday in downtown Chicago with her daughter Sophia, 15. They have come in from Kalamazoo, Mich. every year — except 2020 — for the last eight years.

“We are … vaccinated. Honestly, we missed being here over Thanksgiving last year,” Sarwar said. “It’s a tradition we’ve done since [Sophia] was little. We started coming to see the parade, but now we see the Christkindl [market]. We just like the hustle and bustle and there’s way more shopping than there is in our hometown.”

It wasn’t quite so crowded as in years past, Sarwar said, and very few shops appeared to be open on Thanksgiving Day.

Cyndy Wilson, 57, was in town from Texas with her family. She said she was unaccustomed to Illinois’ and Chicago’s strict mask rules. Wilson said she’s occasionally forgot to put one on while here in the city.

“Nobody has been rude about it or in your face about it or thrown things at me,” she said.

On Friday, she was in line outside the Michigan Avenue Starbucks, behind two dozen or so people so she could purchase a mug with Chicago or Illinois written on it.

She said she was delighted to be in the city.

“It’s beautiful, it’s decorated. It’s worth the trip,” she said. “If it means I have to put a mask on, that’s fine.”

Contributing: Sun-Times staff writer David Roeder; Associated Press

People line up outside Nike on North Michigan Avenue on Black Friday.
People line up outside Nike on North Michigan Avenue on Black Friday.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times