By LOU WILIN

By LOU WILIN

STAFF WRITER

Retailers' effort to squeeze more green out of Black Friday drew a crowd of shoppers to the Findlay Village Mall when it opened on Thanksgiving night.

But after a buying spree that lasted until about 2 a.m. Friday, the shoppers went home, leaving the mall quiet and nearly empty in the middle of the night, store officials and workers said Friday.

Mall leaders are rethinking their strategy of opening anchor stores at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving and others at 10 p.m. or midnight, one store manager said Friday.

To be sure, shoppers thronged to stores at times. From Thursday night until about 2 a.m. Friday was busy, store officials agreed.

Victoria's Secret "had people shaking their gates, and they ended up opening 10 minutes early" at 9:50 p.m. Thursday, said an employee of another mall store.

And on Friday morning, lines of bag-toting shoppers again clustered around cash registers.

But in between the shopping surges, there was an hours-long sleepy period when mall store workers stayed awake by restocking shelves, folding clothes, cleaning up, even doing yoga and jumping jacks.

A man recorded the mall emptiness a little after 6 a.m. with a photo on his cellphone: At that time, you could have fired a cannon in the mall and not hit anyone.

"Like, how long have you been standing here, and how many people have walked in?" a store manager at Maurices asked a reporter. "I mean, we're just standing here. It's 6 o'clock in the morning, 7 o'clock in the morning. Just standing here. It's just crazy."

Said the manager of Coach House Gifts: "From 3 o'clock until (5 a.m.), we had two customers and one of them was a friend."

The hoped-for benefits of the expanded hours were debatable, the Maurices manager said. Employee wages, lighting and other costs reduce whatever sales gain there might be.

"It's the same (sales) volume spread over more hours," the manager said. "So, I don't know how positive it actually is. You're using more payroll, overhead dollars for the same business."

The Maurices manager said the mall manager is talking about opening the stores later next year.

Two workers at one of the large mall department stores also questioned the benefit of being open overnight.

The mad rush of customers ceased about 1 a.m., said one sleepy-eyed worker.

"We just stand around, cleaning up," a perkier coworker said about 6:30 a.m. Friday. "To have both of us here at this time for this long, no, it's not worth it."

Most departments at the store had just one employee working overnight, she said.

Another retail worker at the mall was making the best of her overnight shift.

She said her store had been busy "on and off."

"I mean, the night has gone fast, so I really can't complain," she said. "But would I rather be at home with family? Absolutely."

After finishing her midnight-to-10:30 a.m. shift Friday, she was planning to study. She has college final exams next week. Some college survival skills helped her with her work schedule.

"I've been doing yoga and jumping jacks" behind the counter, she said. "You wake up ... I learned it because I study all night sometimes."

At another store, a worker doing a similar shift charged himself up with an energy drink.

"I think I'm starting to come down from that," he said. "So we just keep ourselves busy doing little things like refilling stuff."

At yet another store, a worker talked about hanging Christmas lights at home after finishing her shift at 6 a.m. She appeared energized by her Black Friday midnight shift, except for the lull in customers.

The Maurices manager questioned the benefit of the extended hours.

"We didn't increase (sales) volume that much. We have to do whatever the anchors do, just because of our lease agreement and stuff like that. But I don't know that it's making us any more money being open more because we're using more overhead to get the same pop," the manager said. "The increase last year wasn't substantial enough to pay for the overhead. But we'll do it. We'll be here, you know, if they open the doors, because it's all about opportunity and you have to take advantage of that.

"This is the nature of the beast. And if you don't want to be here, don't work retail," the store manager laughed.

Wilin: 419-427-8413