Retailers nationwide are predicting a significant increase in holiday sales this year, and Portage County residents already are contributing to the boom.
The traditional Black Friday kickoff of the holiday shopping season has been edging earlier in recent years; many stores now open and offer deals  on Thanksgiving Day.
Tina Evans, assistant general manager at Aurora Farms Premium Outlets, said shoppers lined up outside the Coach store, which sells handbags and other leather items, Nov. 22 before 5 p.m.
There are about 70 stores at Aurora Farms.
“Quite a few stores had lines outside by 9 p.m,” Evans said, adding that all stores were open by midnight.
“We had some really large crowds,” Evans said. “People were out to have fun and get some great deals. We were very pleased with the results.”
Cold winds weren’t a problem for Ravenna’s Midnight Madness Nov. 23 as families hopped from store to store for deals, along with activities such as chariot and trolley rides, ornament making and ice sculpture carving.
“We’ve only been in Ohio for a couple of years and this is awesome,” said K.C. Pallone, while her 7-year-old daughter Giana stayed warm by excitedly jumping in line for her chariot ride.
Pallone said the kids had fun making ornaments and holiday pictures at the Elves’ Workshop in the Ravenna Area Chamber of Commerce.
Barb Burner, owner of House of Holiday Ornaments, was in her element, as she hugged friendly faces coming into the store out of the cold before directing them to the table of cookies and meatballs.
“EVEN IF WE don’t have lots of customers, the people we know come in and that’s good enough,” Burner said. “We only see a lot of these people from Christmas to Christmas, so it’s nice to have them come in.”
Black Friday morning started out as rainy and gloomy as its name. But the clouds cleared and it turned into a sunny day for shoppers. Later, the weather turned colder and the wind picked up.
Donelle Howard of Akron and her mother, who were on their way to Target in Stow, have a Black Friday routine. The pair start shopping around 7 a.m. when the crowds are dwindling, and leave after the early bird specials end at 1 p.m.
“Sometimes we buy clothes or gifts,” Howard said. “We come out here because it’s not as crowded as the mall.”
Yankee Candle, which opened in the same plaza as Target and Kohl’s in February, had a successful first Black Friday, said Kasey Rohrich, second assistant manager, who had Thanksgiving dinner with her family before her 2 to 11 a.m. shift started.
“We handed out fliers to people waiting in line at Target and actually opened at 11:30 [Thursday night],” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to get our name out there.”
Yankee Candle’s busiest hours were between midnight and 2 a.m. The crowd slowed for a while, but picked up again about 10 a.m.
In Streetsboro, by Friday morning there were no lines and no crowds, but lots of sales receipts in hand.
Garrettsville resident Annette Yeager, a Steelers fan, said she was trying to turn her 9-month-old grandson Isaac to her side in the Steelers-Browns rivalry, seeking Steelers gear at Kmart.
“HIS PARENTS are Browns fans,” she said with a laugh.
Downtown Kent offered a more quiet, relaxing atmosphere for people to walk around and enjoy the weather Friday morning.
Meanwhile, shoppers gave Kent merchants something to be thankful about by flooding downtown shops on Small Business Saturday.
Anthony Minerovic, a Kent State University student who works at Dr. Greenbee, a “sustainable living” store in Acorn Alley, said the shopping holiday, created in 2010 to encourage customers to shop at local small businesses, was a boon to the store.
“We’ve had 100-plus customers,” he said. “Sales are about 10 times what’s typical [for a Saturday].”
Bob Mayfield, owner of McKay Bricker Framing and Black Squirrel Gallery and Gifts, said the shopping event brought more customers and cash into downtown Kent this year than in prior years.
American Express created Small Business Saturday in 2010, with the intention of giving local firms a boost between Black Friday, a big earner for the big box retailers, and Cyber Monday, a day where shoppers seek the best deals from online sellers.
Gwen Rosenberg of Popped!, the gourmet popcorn store in Acorn Alley II, said she saw a big increase in customers Saturday, but also Friday, when shoppers traditionally focus on big box stores and malls.