15 Sep 2014
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Black Friday Bustling Across the Peninsula

Shoppers flock to Hillsdale, Stanford malls, but avoid local downtown areas.

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Black Friday shoppers flooded malls along the Peninsula to take advantage of early morning sales opportunities, but did not show the same enthusiasm for supporting the local businesses in their hometowns.

Throngs of people packed the parking lots and filled the stores at Hillsdale and Stanford Shopping Centers, while the business districts in surrounding communities such as San Carlos and Menlo Park were left nearly vacant.

Gamze Basar appeared tired as she sat with friends around shopping bags filled with clothes. The 23-year-old San Mateo resident arrived at Hillsdale Shopping Center in San Mateo at 4 a.m. Friday in order to take advantage of the early-bird special offers.

Yet still, despite her willingness to sacrifice sleep in order to save money, Basar said she was unimpressed with the prices offered by retailers.

"There were not a lot of good deals," Basar said. "But I had to go shopping anyway."

Basar, who traditionally shops on Black Friday, said it appeared that there were fewer people at the mall than there have been in previous years.

She said there was quite a crowd of people shopping alongside her before sunrise Friday morning, but that she did not experience getting stuck in lines or being forced to wait for service.

That sentiment was echoed by Taylor Cowan, who experienced his first ever Black Friday shopping experience this year at Hillsdale.

The 29-year-old Seattle resident said he was not greeted by crowds, long lines or delayed service when he arrived at 6 a.m.

Cowan said it was not initially his intention to go shopping on Black Friday, but ended up at the mall after leaving on a walk from his relative's house where he celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday.

But he said that once he began shopping he was able to locate good deals on gifts for family, friends and himself.

"I just wanted to check it out and see what it is all about," said Cowan, of the Black Friday experience.

But not all those on the Peninsula expressed a desire to participate in the holiday shopping hoopla.

Downtown San Carlos appeared as if it existed in an alternate universe from the busy winter wonderland at Hillsdale.

Many of the boutiques and shops on Laurel Street were still closed by mid-morning. And the special deal stickers that were so prevalent on windows of retailers at the mall were notably absent from the storefronts of the local competition.

San Carlos resident Patty Murphy said she planned to avoid participating in the biggest shopping day of the year.

"I would never shop on Black Friday," she said. "It's the only day of the year I don't shop. There are way too many people."

While walking on the similarly sleepy sidewalks of Santa Cruz Avenue in downtown Menlo Park, Grace Chen agreed that the Black Friday crowds can be overwhelming.

Which is why the Menlo park resident intended to spend her Black Friday bucks shopping online-- perhaps to the chagrin of local merchants.

Chen said she plans to do about 80 percent of her shopping over the internet this year, due to the convenience of shopping from home while avoiding being forced to pay sales tax.

But she still planned on meeting friends at the Stanford Shopping Center in order to see if she could find any good Black Friday deals on boots, that would be given as a gift to herself, Chen said.

The atmosphere at Stanford Shopping Center was much more akin to that of Hillsdale than the nearly empty downtown districts of Menlo Park or San Carlos.

A Christmas tree decked with ornaments greeted shoppers, while many others perused the outdoor marketplace sipping frothy, foamed espresso drinks as they carried bags full of lavish goodies from high-end retailers.

Such a sight led Los Altos resident David Wadors to believe that the recently downtrodden economy is on the road toward recovery.

But Wadors, who works in the investment industry, said that signs of economic improvement in Silicon Valley must be taken with a grain of salt when compared in a broader context, due to the unusually affluent communities found locally.

"This is a wacky area we live in," said Wadors, citing the preference of local shoppers to patronize expensive niche-market clothing stores during a time when other regions of the country are experiencing a stifled economy.

"This is la-la land," Wadors said. "It's not real America."

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