NILES - Carol Maund said this year's Black Friday experience wasn't stressful - it was excellent.
Maund, 68, of Canada, and her husband, Murray Proud, 65, were taking a breather on a bench outside Macy's at the Eastwood Mall in Niles. They have family in Youngstown and Columbus, and said shopping the day after Thanksgiving in Trumbull County is something they do every year.
"(Eastwood Mall) is where we all shop," said Maund, reflecting that this year's crowd was not bad at all compared with others.
Colleen Rafferty, of Girard and Molly Mattson, formerly of Youngstown, load the back of their vehicle with shopping bags on Black Friday outside of Toys ‘R’ Us in Niles.
This year, shoppers were given the option of entering some stores on Thanksgiving instead of waiting for Friday's early-morning door busters.
"Black Friday has grown in popularity pretty rapidly, and stores are opening earlier and earlier each year," said Eastwood Mall security officer Logan Sturgeon. Although this year's crowd was a little more hectic than last year, he said he didn't see an increase in holiday disputes.
Businesses such as the Starbucks on state Route 46 usually serve large crowds of people taking a break from Black Friday shopping, but this year it was actually a little calmer, said store manager Brenda Hellman.
Colleen Rafferty, 58, of Girard, agreed.
"We were surprised," said Rafferty as she loaded her vehicle with bags outside of Toys 'R' Us in Niles with Molly Mattson, 34, formerly of Youngstown.
"We got everything we needed," said Mattson, who was holding her 10-week-old daughter, Kylie. They didn't start their shopping until 9:30 a.m. Friday because they wanted to let the baby sleep, but said they were glad they did.
Toys 'R' Us opened at 8 p.m. Thursday, and service desk employee Mallory Shelby said this year's customer flow may have been a little heavier than last year's.
The mad rush went all through Thursday night and tapered off to a steady pace throughout the morning, she said.
Best Buy supervisor Jimmy Matos said this year was definitely different than the average Black Friday.
"This year was very competitive," he said, and customers had a lot longer to shop with the store opening its doors at midnight instead of the usual 5 a.m. Friday.
It won't be clear for a few days how many shoppers took advantage of the Thanksgiving hours. But about 17 percent of people said earlier this month that they planned to shop at stores that opened on Thanksgiving, according to an International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs survey of 1,000 consumers.
Meanwhile, 33 percent intended to shop on Black Friday, down 1 percentage point from last year. Overall, it is estimated that sales on Black Friday will be up 3.8 percent to $11.4 billion this year, according to technology company ShopperTrak, which did not forecast sales from Thanksgiving Day.
Locally owned All American Comics and Cards in Warren also started Black Friday early, but only an hour earlier than last year.
"I know my clientele," said owner Greg Bartholomew, who owns a second location in Boardman. "I'm not opening up at 8 a.m. to sell comic books."
He said he only started participating in Black Friday about three years ago because he didn't know if it would work out for his stores.
Most people who go out early on Black Friday are looking for big-ticket items such as TVs, washers and dryers, he said, but one thing that sets his stores apart is that people can walk in with $10 and buy several things.
"I think we're busier today than we have been in the past," he said Friday afternoon. "Foot traffic has been good. We'll see at the end of the day."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.