A post-pandemic shopping spree this past weekend showed encouraging signs for retailers and consumers alike as the holiday buying kicked into higher gear for South Bend-area businesses.
About 10 stores at University Park Mall reported lines of shoppers when the Black Friday events began at 6 a.m., but that was better than the numbers recorded during the past two years, according to Christian Carlson, director of marketing and business development at the mall.
"It was definitely better than last year, and the numbers of shoppers was significantly up," Carlson said of the opening.
For example, officials at Lululemon reported some 60 people waiting to get inside during the opening rush. The former pop-up store offering athletic apparel for yoga, running and other activities opened its own storefront, and Carlson said the move was a draw for its customer base.
Other retailers, such as Game Stop, also saw brisk early Black Friday action largely due to the fact it had strong sales for the PlayStation 5 it had in stock for Black Friday.
Carlson said the mall shopping day was not expected to compete with the early-bird Black Friday deals offered at the big-box stores. He said when shoppers get to those deals, the mall serves as a secondary stop. The largest crowds at the mall on Friday were expected between 1 and 6 p.m.
Shoppers search for holiday deals
The mall's food court offerings often serves as a place where Black Friday shoppers eat in between rounds of searching for bargains.
That seemed to be the case for Nadine Sunman and Violet Sidlauskas, both of North Liberty.
Sunman said she started her Black Friday shopping at 5 a.m. at Kohl's in search of a Ninja cooker that was deeply discounted.
"I got the last one," she said. "I was moving some boxes, and one sort of peeked out."
She said the mall at 9:30 a.m. was not that busy. Sunman and Sidlauskas traditionally shop the sales at Bath & Body Works at the mall, and the Black Friday shopping for them was quieting down a bit.
Brock Molebash of Bremen and others he was shopping with started at the mall about 8:30 a.m. Friday, when the mall was not too busy, to look for bargains.
But for Haylie Rodriguez of Bremen, her efforts to get to the mall at 6:15 a.m. were fruitful, seeing the several large bags she was carrying .
"I came not having anything to find, but I found some!" she said.
Community encourages shopping local
Across town, in South Bend, hundreds of shoppers made the decision to "shop local" at small businesses featured in South Bend Venue Parks & Arts' Howard Holiday Market this weekend.
The market — moved inside after windy and cold weather disrupted last year's outdoor event — featured more than two dozen local vendors in the two-day shopping experience.
More than 1,300 pre-registered to ice skate at Howard Park's opening day Friday, said Abbigail Griffin, a special events coordinator with South Bend Venues Parks & Arts. And, many of those patrons visited the Howard Holiday Market as well. A steady stream of shoppers visited the market Saturday.
"The turnout was great," Griffin said. "I think that we're going to do more throughout the winter season."
Griffin said shoppers can watch the sbvpa.org website for updates on future Howard Holiday Markets.
Growing brands like South Bend Locals, with its locally produced whiskey and apparel, set up shop this weekend next to junior vendors and family-owned businesses, like those of Lavinia Goodman's daughters who sell baked goods and homemade beauty products.
"It means a lot ... for people to support young adults and young kids wanting to start of their own businesses," Goodman said.
Entrepreneurs like John Reynold of South Bend Locals say a small business shopping experience provides one-of-a-kind gifts that can often be tailored to customers' requests.
"When you shop local, there's kind of a little extra meaning behind it," Reynold said. "You're buying something that represents your hometown."
Downtown South Bend, which handed out Shop Small tote bags at Howard Park to celebrate Small Business Saturday, is promoting local businesses this winter along with several holiday-themed events, including their annual Holiday Tree & Wreath Sales benefiting Relay for Life of St. Joseph County, a First Friday Tree Lighting on Dec. 2, and Holiday Light Parade on Dec. 9.
DTSB's Facebook page is the most up-to-date place to look for events the non-profit is sponsoring throughout the holiday season, said Courtney Kubly, the organization's director of business development.
"The focus is really supporting our downtown businesses," Kubly said. "That money does stay local and it's supporting people that you know in the community."
It was that opportunity to invest locally, especially as businesses rebound from the pandemic, that brought Jill VanDriessche of North Liberty to the Howard Holiday Market on Saturday.
"It's really easy to go online and have it delivered to your door," VanDriessche said. "But, if we want our community to be vibrant, then we need to help contribute to our small businesses."
Email Tribune staff writer Greg Swiercz at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: Black Friday South Bend Small Business Saturday