The Friday after Thanksgiving I took my car in to be serviced at the dealership in the town near me. Through some miscommunication I thought the work would be done in 4 hours (it was done in 7, "just as I thought," said the staffer who took the order.) Based on the four-hour misunderstanding, I decided I would wander the town's shopping area.
The dealership is in the town with the major shopping area for my part of the county: no enclosed malls, just blocks and blocks of downtown stores. The closest store to the dealership is a big-box store beloved of suburbanites, who generally pronounce its name with a French accent. I got there around 9:00 -- it had opened that day around 6. What I found: plenty of parking spaces in the small front lot (most parking is underground,) and not many people inside. The only place in the store with a crowd --- really, a crowdette --- was the electronics area. The toy area had few people, and was easy to navigate, particularly as I didn't have a cart, having no car to lug any purchased treasures to. There were no lines at the checkout counters, which were fully staffed.
I then walked down the closest street, with shops on both sides. All stores were open (by now it was about 10, as I had stopped first for a scone at a small bakery) but there were very few cars parked. The only store I went into in the first couple of blocks was the Heart Association's somewhat upscale thrift store. It was crowded with a group of three or four women interested in the clothes. I overheard one saying "I'll never shop [upmarket department store two blocks away] again -- the clothes here are great."
Wandering on, I got closer to the street anchored by two chain department stores, one upmarket and one upper-mid range. Now there were lots of people around, but not enough to block the sidewalks. I went into a chain bookstore, and it was pretty empty, except for the cafe. All cash registers for book, etc., purchases were fully staffed: there was one person ahead of me in line. By now it was about 11:30.
I wandered around the street with the anchor tenants and lots of small shops: not many people there either. Certainly no congestion on the sidewalks. I then headed back to a restaurant near the car dealer for lunch, which didn't have much in the way of customers. (And then I got stuck reading old magazines at the dealer for a couple of hours -- the library nearby is being rebuilt, so I couldn't go there.)
I was surprised the next day to read in the SF Chronicle a report that there had been big crowds in that same area I had been in. Maybe at 6am, maybe after lunch, but not between 9am and noon.
Thanks to absent-mindedness, I had to go back the next day to retrieve the jacket I had left in the bakery (just to be polite I had a chocolate chip scone ....) Now having a car, I went back to the big-box store with the French pronunciation to actually make some purchases. I arrived around 9:30: again, plenty of parking outside and few people inside the store. One toy on special that I assumed would be sold out was still available. There were no lines at the cash registers. A number of staffers were wandering around, apparently with maps of where some specials were located, but there weren't any people to give them to.
The one interesting thing about that store is that it had racks and racks and racks of 50% off clothing -- none of the current stuff, and a few items weren't even for fall/winter. The clothing was all very jammed together on the racks -- the whole effect was very different from the store's usual displays. The message the racks sent was that this store isn't doing well -- certainly the lack of shoppers both days seemed to confirm that.