Shoppers swarm Macy’s for the first time in three years

Long before the crowds swelled into Thanksgiving weekend, they slowed to a trickle at Macy’s Herald Square in New York City on Tuesday morning.

The annual event, the largest known retail event in the United States, brought business to the shops and restaurants surrounding the 16-story department store, according to Cathy Hirt, a partner at the accounting firm Deloitte and a member of the retail practice council at Deloitte’s retail group.

But this year, the store also closed the doors to the traffic in front of it, the busiest aspect of the Thanksgiving tradition.

“The most wonderful time of the year is coming to an end,” Hirt said as the stores rose to their peak hour from 10 to 11 a.m. “And that’s when the crowds really start to thin out.”

In an email to shoppers last month, Macy’s said it would not be able to book full performance and “celebratory dates” over Thanksgiving weekend, citing security concerns.

Two men wearing a T-shirt from the chain’s pharmacy were seen leaving one of the shops with jars of nitrous oxide, the gas that is a popular party ingredient, two weeks before the mall was set to open.

Families milling the crowd earlier on Tuesday said they were happy to do some holiday shopping before the holiday weekend ended.

“I was just waiting for my daughters to finish their shopping,” Roger Jago said. He said that he wanted to take his 10-year-old daughter Ania for a walk, then return to the mall for a reunion with the family that lives across the street.

The spectacle at Macy’s was a show for the full nation. It’s a spectacle both for those who are able to get in and for the many who couldn’t. More than 5 million Americans camped out before the iconic store started ringing bells at 8 a.m. on Tuesday. For those who didn’t, stores opened early, and stores that did weren’t always the cheapest ones.

Horton’s salad shop near Macy’s was the busiest eatery in the area, and workers said that they hadn’t seen much business at the rest of the restaurants in the neighborhood.

Macy’s has featured the spectacle since 1923, when workers on the streets of Manhattan for Thanksgiving morning joined the sales and celebrated a holiday outside the stores’ windows. Retailers later developed the synchronized window displays in many other locations around the country.

Macy’s does well around the holiday season, but it’s busiest days are the next three days before Christmas, which is one of the busiest days of the year. A barometer for that sort of information about the holiday season: Tiffany & Co. sales. The retailer says Monday through Thursday were among its strongest days in each of the past three years. The Super Bowl has been good, as well.

“We see a big spike around the Super Bowl,” said Saumya Desai, a Tiffany spokeswoman.

Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette told analysts last year that the last-minute shoppers who wait until the last minute to buy “are not just the children of our customers, but who are retail experts because they are used to shopping for holidays in the last minute,” he said.

The wait-and-see attitude of the shoppers who line up outside the Macy’s window has always been there. Last year, Ilan Schechter, a 35-year-old travel agent from Brooklyn, said the biggest surprise about the holiday shopping experience was that it’s not “big,” despite the daily waiting hour.

But his family expects to clear $1,000 before the end of the weekend.

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