Shopping centers healthy despite battered economy

Shopping-center owners are bracing for massive crowds Friday, even though gas prices are soaring to near record highs and online retailers are drawing more customers than ever.

The Bay Area’s retail centers will open early Friday for what has come to be known as Black Friday — the day many merchants begin to turn a profit for the year. In addition, many will offer “doorbuster” deals to make sure shoppers don’t stay home and sleep off their turkey hangovers.

The crowds and chaos are “half the fun” of shopping on Black Friday, said Todd Falduti, general manager for Westfield San Francisco Centre. “It’s become an event.”

At the same time, gas prices in the Bay Area were at $3.58 for a gallon of regular unleaded Wednesday — just 5 cents shy of the record set May 11, said Sean Comey, spokesman for the American Automobile Association.

The shift in gas prices has made motorists more “innovative” — they may choose to telecommute, carpool or take public transit in order to save money, Comey said.

Falduti expected most Westfield shoppers would take BART or Muni to shop Friday. But Don Whitehead, general manager of the Shops at Tanforan in San Bruno, anticipated most of his customers would drive in — despite the fact that the center has its own BART station.

“The trend we’ve seen nationally is for fewer visits [to shopping centers], but at the same time, people are purchasing more on each visit, so sales have held even,” Whitehead said.

Online retailers such as Amazon.com are expecting record online crowds, though representatives at the corporate giant wouldn’t speculate whether Amazon’s shoppers avoid brick-and-mortar stores entirely.

“We have a lot of customers who come and buy on the site, and we get customers who come to Amazon, do research and buy [the item] elsewhere,” Amazon.com spokesman Craig Berman said.

bwinegarner@examiner.com  

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