SALT LAKE CITY — Once the midnight rush at the big box stores was over, shoppers hit the malls on Black Friday.
Salt Lake City's three major downtown shopping centers — City Creek, The Gateway and Trolley Square — all reported strong activity on the first official day of the holiday shopping season. And all three believe there is plenty of business to go around for everyone.
Shoppers, mall officials and business owners alike say what will ultimately decide where the public will spend its money this season will depend on what each individual shopper wants. All three malls proclaim that what makes them unique is that they offer items the others don't.
"People like to shop here because of the names. They also like to shop here because our department stores are unique and better in ways that other department stores in the market are not," said Linda Wardell, general manager of City Creek Center.
Salt Lake's newest and biggest mall, the City Creek Center, celebrated its first ever Black Friday event.
"We've just been waiting for this day for about two years. We've been planning and working towards this day, and we're off to a terrific start," Wardell said.
Stores at City Creek began opening at 5 a.m. but Wardell said they expected their busiest times to be mid afternoon and at night.
"The chaos you see of people smashing through the doors, that typically happens at big box retailers or at discounters," she said. "The types of stores we have here definitely have door buster specials and great values. But our shoppers like to typically sleep in a little or they like to go out and do that other shopping at those other places before doing their mall shopping later in the day."
Shoppers like Monique Arvisais-Anhalt went to City Creek specifically for shops she can't find at any of the other malls.
"I think City Creek has good quality stores. And I don't shop very often, so when I do shop I want something that's good quality that will last a long time. And most of the stores here are good quality. But they are more expensive," she said.
But Sean Bradley, owner of Cabin Fever and Tabula Rasa — which has been in business now for 26 years — said shoppers who come to his store and the Trolley Square mall come for the same reason.
"What we have here is unique," he said. "They will see things here that they can't find anywhere else."
Trolley Square is still in a rebuilding phase and recently changed ownership. Even though much of the mall space remains vacant, there are also many retailers that have been in the historic shopping area for decades. And many say they are encouraged by the recent change in ownership as well as the addition of new stores, including Whole Foods.
"It's much better. Two or three great stores have come in this year. It's still got a ways to go before it's full. But our clients, they love to shop here," said Steve Farr, owner of Payne-Anthony Jewelers. "Trolley is different because it almost feels like it's owned by the community. It's not so much a big financial enterprise. A lot of the people feel like they've grown up here and they've been coming here since they were young. And it's a fun place to come during Christmas."
At The Gateway, several stores, including Dick's Sporting Goods, Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters, opened their doors at midnight.
"As soon as they opened all you could hear was screams," said Rochelle Fraser, marketing director for The Gateway.
The stores that opened at midnight had long lines that stretched down the sidewalks of the shopping center, Fraser said. Strong traffic continued throughout the day, dispelling any notion that The Gateway might lose business to City Creek.
"We had more traffic than expected. A lot of our stores were just so thrilled with the amount of people that showed up this year," she said. "We're not surprised really. Now, downtown has more to offer."
And like the other malls, Fraser said The Gateway has shops that can only be found there.
"We have about 40 local retailers that not a lot of places have. We have more of those type of retailers here than you can't get anywhere else," Fraser said.
She said what also sets The Gateway apart from the other malls is that is has more restaurant and entertainment options, such as the Megaplex theater.
Shoppers like Erica Halverson admit they went to The Gateway partially because they thought they would be avoiding the larger crowds at City Creek. But also because there are stores there that meet her needs.
"I have specific stores that I want to go to that aren't at City Creek. City Creek is all the expensive stores," she said.
Halverson also spent time at Walmart at midnight before heading to The Gateway.
"I've never seen so many people at Walmart. It was crazy. It was people lined up for a mile long and people had like three TVs in their shopping carts. It was wild. I was kind of scared for my life, to be honest. It was pretty crazy," she said.
Likewise, Sierra Conklin was out at midnight. Conklin, who is from Australia, had never experienced a Black Friday before.
"I've never heard of people getting up at 12 o'clock at night and lining up for hours just to go shopping. I got coerced into going last night and I had never experienced anything like that in my life," she said. "It was kind of exciting. Just having people line up and kind of pushing and shoving and all excited about deals. It was definitely unusual. It was fun, though. I loved it."
Conklin, who is assistant manager at the newly opened Called To Surf store at The Gateway, also loved the fact that the strong shopper interest extended to her store.
"I love it. Since it's my first Black Friday, I wasn't sure what to expect. But it's actually a lot of fun. I prefer things when they're busy. And having the constant stream of people in all the time, it's exciting. I love it. I wish it was Black Friday everyday," she said.
"Its been amazing. We've had so many people come in. Most people are coming out with at least one item. And the sales are so insane right now. It's been crazy. It's been difficult but amazing."
Wardell said the City Creek Center has become a destination shopping area for residents not only in Utah, but surrounding states like Idaho and Wyoming. And business at City Creek, she said, will only help the entire downtown Salt Lake City area.
"What we've learned is that City Creek Center has helped to create a shopping destination for all of downtown," she said. "City Creek Center has exceeded expectations and it's helping downtown Salt Lake City to thrive as well."
A recent study by the Downtown Business Alliance, according to Wardell, showed that 46 percent of people visiting City Creek also planned to visit other shopping areas in downtown Salt Lake. And 52 percent expressed more interest in traveling to the downtown area in general since City Creek opened.
The Downtown Business Alliance is even sponsoring a Jingle Bus, a shuttle that provides free transportation between The Gateway, Temple Square, Gallivan Plaza and City Creek Center.
Each mall is also offering its own unique holiday decor.
At City Creek, there is a lantern theme in addition to the traditional Christmas tree and holiday fountains. Each "lantern," or booth, is interactive and represents a classic Christmas storybook. There will also be story tellers at City Creek on weekends at designated locations around the mall telling classic Christmas tales. Wardell said City Creek's holiday decor has been two years in the making.
The Gateway is offering its Starry, Starry Nights light show. The Gateway also has its Olympic Fountain turned into a Christmas theme with music by Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
At Trolley Square, there are also Christmas decorations. Their Christmas Open House is Dec. 1 and includes a classic Christmas movie in the forum area.
"There's kind of a Dickens feel at Trolley you don't find anywhere else," Farr said. "People come to Trolley Square if they want something unusual, a little nicer product, and the service here is better, because we're so much community oriented."
"We like the fact that it's different. Our customers come here rather than going to the big box retailers because they can enjoy themselves more. It's not as crowded, we really focus on customer service and spending time with each one of them," Bradley added. "My core customer base is as solid as ever. They went down and investigated City Creek, looked around and are coming back here because we're not there. They can't find the same things there."