Judging by the unbroken rows of occupied parking spaces, the Kalispell Center Mall hasn’t yet acquiesced to the recent invasion of big box stores a few miles north on U.S. 93.
Inside, the tiny mall bustles with shoppers. Even the Army National Guard recruitment center has a half dozen “customers” chatting with recruiters at their desks or playing Halo III on a big flat screen TV.
Down the hall, people browse birdhouses with roofs made of license plates, size up leather bound flasks and peruse handmade wooden signs inscribed with sayings like “Happy Wife, Happy Life” at a local crafts fair.
The walkways at Herberger’s snarl with foot traffic every time someone stops to admire the mounds of 40-percent-off sweaters, pants and shirts that were likely folded neatly earlier in the day, but by noon lie tousled in lumps that dangle off the side of display tables.
Lines at some of the Herbergers’ cash registers stretch back 25 anxious customers, and it’s no better at JC Penney.
In front of the roped-off Nutcracker display at the center of the mall three senior citizens, one man and two women mill around, as the man speaks into a walkie-talkie.
“Dave, do you copy?” he asks. “We’re leaving.”
A teenage girl at a nearby gift wrapping station tells someone listening at the other side of her cell phone conversation, “It’s crazy busy here.”
Outside, drivers hunting for a parking spots watch for customers exiting the mall, and wait patiently for spaces while drivers fumble with keys to unlock doors and unload their goodies.
December Barcus, marketing assistant for the mall, thinks that a new “hipper” look for the shopping complex, and new stores like Buckle, Mariposa and Maurices have helped it stay competitive with the big box stores.
Barcus didn’t have official Black Friday numbers yet, but believes the numbers will be good as they come in.
“The mall was fairly busy all day long,” she says. “When we opened our doors at 4 [a.m.] people were lined up waiting to get in. That’s Black Friday for you.”