For many Minnesotans, Black Friday felt a lot like it did before the pandemic.
There were hardly any masks, no capacity rules, no distance signs and no glass between kids and Santa Claus.
But in a lot of ways, Black Friday was also no longer the frenzied marathon it was in the decade before the pandemic. With so many sales begun weeks ago, the early-morning doorbusters and long lines of shoppers were mostly gone. Inflation was top of mind, and many buyers talked about sticking to budgets.
"I definitely want a good deal," said Julie Nessly of Chanhassen as she headed into the Scheels store at the Eden Prairie Center shortly before 7 a.m. "If it's not a good deal, I won't buy it."
Nessly and her daughter-in-law arrived at the Scheels store as it opened to look for ideas for their outdoorsy husbands and to get the good deals before they were gone.
But at Southdale Center in Edina, the state's oldest shopping mall, there were only 20 cars in the parking lot of Macy's when the mall's general manager Judy Tullius arrived shortly before its 6 a.m. opening.
"The way people shop has definitely changed," she said. "Macy's has their Black Friday deals all week, so there was no incentive to come at 6 a.m."
The holiday shopping season lengthened in the pandemic years, when people shopped more online in 2020 due to health concerns and earlier in 2021 because of supply chain issues.
This year, retailers began promotions last month to help relieve a surplus of inventory. Even so, most of the revenue gains they were experiencing were due to prices that have been shaped by the highest rate of inflation in 40 years.
U.S. retail sales increased 7.9% in October; however, when adjusted for inflation, volume sales were actually down by 0.4%, according to analytics firm GlobalData.
The National Retail Federation — the largest retail trade group — expects holiday sales growth in stores and online will slow to a range of 6% to 8%, from 13.5% growth of a year ago. However, these figures aren't adjusted for inflation. Real spending could even be down from a year ago.
According to a study done by consulting company Accenture, 54% of Twin Cities consumers, the most of any metro area it surveyed, plan to shop in-store this holiday.
"Maybe it's not as blockbuster of a Black Friday or Cyber Monday as it could have been," said Kelsey Robinson, a senior partner in the San Francisco office of McKinsey & Co. "It will still be two big, huge shopping days."
The biggest crowd in the Twin Cities at the start of Black Friday was at the biggest mall: More than 10,000 people entered the Mall of America in Bloomington during the first hour after its 7 a.m. opening.
Hailey Rost, a 14-year-old from Lakeville, said she was happy to join her mother and aunt on a first-thing-in-the-morning run to the mall. "They have been doing it [for a while] and we finally get to go this year," she said.
While there to look for deals, Rost said she really just craved the chance to be in the crowd and explore the mall.
"Experience is key," said Jill Renslow, executive vice president of business development and marketing at the mall.
"We are so much more than a shopping mall and the key to our success is the diversification of all of our uses from having the retail, the dining attractions, entertainment, and hospitality," she said.
In downtown Minneapolis, a longtime tradition was revived at the site of the Dayton's department store, which anchored the Twin Cities retail scene for much of the 20th century. Santa Bears, which Dayton's first sold for $10 in 1984, were back on sale again at what's now called the Dayton's Project.
Dayton's the store created new versions of the Santa Bear annually through 2007. Shoppers built collections of the stuffed bears. Dayton's produced TV specials about them and even worked with General Mills on a Santa Bear promotion with Cinnamon Toast crunch cereal.
A collection of Santa Bears is also part of the holiday window display at the Dayton's Project, which is along Nicollet Mall between 7th and 8th streets.
In Loring Park on the edge of downtown, craft vendors, food trucks and artists set up for the annual Holidazzle event, which will take place on weekends through Dec. 18.
By mid-morning, the parking lot at the Target store in Edina was filled. Rebecca Peterson, of Edina, had a list of potential gifts as she shopped the toy aisle for Pokemon figures. In addition to her three kids, she is donating gifts to three different families during the holidays.
"Now I'm trying to figure out what would work best, and it feels like if I'm in the store, I can find the best options for them and I can ask other kids for advice," she said.
By Friday afternoon, with the sun shining and temperatures in the mid-40s, it was nearly impossible to find a parking spot at the Twin Cities Premium Outlets in Eagan.
"We're seeing some great crowds," said Sarah Dorrian, the center's director of marketing.
Even though Black Friday is no longer a mad dash, the holiday season is expected to be a comeback of sorts for the brick-and-mortar retail store, said Jill Standish, Accenture's global lead for retail.
"I really do think this is going to be a physical store holiday, which will be really fun to watch," she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.