Updated Friday, November 23, 2012 at 11:01 PM
At Alderwood mall in Lynnwood, Mount Vernon mom Rebecca Holland maneuvered through crowds of post-Thanksgiving bargain hunters Friday, half-interested in the signs that blared "Fashion Finds From $5" or "Everything 60% Off."
"The sales are nice, but I think we could have gotten the same things online for just as cheap," said Holland, joined by two other moms. "This was more of just a fun thing to do with friends."
Then there was Amol Shanbhag, who set out alone at 7 p.m. Thursday, singularly focused on door-buster deals. Ten hours later, he could be found in the electronics aisle at a Fred Meyer store in Bellevue.
"This is my sixth store," he said, holding a Coby digital photo frame, marked down from $50 to $20. In all, he had spent nearly $600 so far. "I've probably had too much coffee. Maybe I'll go to Radio Shack next."
Some 80.5 million U.S. consumers were expected to shop on Black Friday, so-called because that's when many stores reach profitability for the year, that is, they are "in the black."
A record number of large chains, including Target, Toys R Us and Walmart, kicked off their holiday sales Thanksgiving evening, while other big-box chains swung open their doors at midnight.
Alderwood had nearly 100 stores open at midnight, almost twice as many as last year, said marketing manager Carol Hildahl.
The National Retail Federation predicts holiday sales will rise 4.1 percent, more than a percentage point lower than the growth in each of the past two years. Preliminary data on the strength of Black Friday sales won't be available until Sunday, when the trade group releases survey results on when and where people shopped and how much they spent.
The six-week period between Thanksgiving and New Year's accounts for nearly a fourth of annual sales for many department stores and discounters.
Stores face a range of challenges this holiday season, including fierce competition online, an uncertain economy and possible new tax increases. While Black Friday is the most talked-about shopping day of the year, it's not always the best indicator of a strong economy.
"History suggests that strong sales on Black Friday tend to be followed by weak sales over the rest of the holidays and that weak sales on Black Friday tend to be followed by strong sales later on," Paul Dales, senior U.S. economist for Capital Economics, said in a note to clients.
Walmart, the world's largest retailer, said it was its best Black Friday ever, despite protests at a number of stores nationwide, including in Renton.
A union-backed group called OUR Walmart said it would hold an estimated 1,000 protests in 46 states to criticize the company's labor practices. Walmart said that figure was grossly exaggerated and that the protests involved few of its employees.
In Lynnwood, hundreds of bargain hunters lined up outside a Best Buy store late Thursday, eager to snap up a limited supply of discounted merchandise at the store's midnight opening.
Employees handed out tickets authorizing shoppers at the front of the line to buy door-buster deals. As midnight approached, the tickets themselves became a sought-after item, with latecomers offering as much as $20 apiece. The store's top-seller turned out to be a 40-inch Toshiba TV for $179, down from $419.
"All the door busters were sold within an hour," said Best Buy employee Cale Robertson. "It's craziness."
Nearby, Bothell moms Farrell Hogenauer and Mary Khouzam hit Toys R Us for two hours Friday morning, filling a shopping cart with Hot Wheels cars, board games and Lego sets.
"Everything I've gotten was the last one in stock," Hogenauer said. "I think a lot of people did their shopping on Thanksgiving."
Nicole Stel of Vancouver, B.C., rested in her car outside a Lynnwood Radio Shack at 6 a.m. Friday, while her sister and cousin shopped inside. They drove down from Canada and had been shopping since 8 p.m. Thursday.
"This probably is our last stop for the morning," Stel said.
At University Village in Seattle, promotions tended to be low-key.
Locally owned Mrs. Cook's, which sells kitchenware, rolled out Christmas decorations after closing for Thanksgiving on Thursday, then opened at 9 a.m. Friday.
"We tried doing a big Black Friday event last year, and it wasn't successful for us," said manager Amy Pomp Lorette.
Mrs. Cook's stands a better chance on Saturday, when shoppers across the U.S. are encouraged to "Shop Small" businesses as part of a campaign supported by American Express.
"It's better than a normal Friday," Lorette said of Black Friday. "But it's not crazy."
Information from The New York Times and The Associated Press was included in this story.
Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or email@example.com
STEVE RINGMAN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Black Friday shoppers brave the rain as they move from store to store on Fifth Avenue in downtown Seattle.
ELLEN M. BANNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Done with her shopping, Cindy Chung, of Shoreline, waits with relatives at Alderwood Mall in Lynnwood early Friday afternoon for her mother, who was still hitting the stores. They had been at the mall since 6:30 a.m., Chung said.
ELLEN M. BANNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Katie Kallio, of Bellevue, selects an assortment of women's socks at Fred Meyer in Bellevue on Friday morning. She tries to shop the after-Thanksgiving sale each year.