By mid-morning, though, the overnight rush had largely subsided and shoppers instead swarmed at specific stores to beat deadlines on special deals.
Otherwise, most malls and other retailers had calmed to a pitch more like a busy weekend day.
The exceptions were some personal electronic stores, clothing stores and the sprawling Sawgrass Mills mall, which teemed unceasingly with humanity and vehicles all day long.
The outlet center in Sunrise delivered what has become the traditional image of the annual Black Friday shopfest, as more than 1,600 people waited in line for the midnight opening of the Target store there. More than 2,000 lined up at Brandsmart USA.
No one summed up the Black Friday mentality better than Shalisia Jones-Mosley, 37, who at 2:30 a.m. brought her son Larry to stores in and around Westfield Broward Mall. After three hours, they took a pretzel break surrounded by bags of toys, clothes, bath and body products.
"I sure like spending money," Jones-Mosley said. “I don’t shop much but I do it on Black Friday so I can save hundreds… I have to be at work at noon so I’m going home soon to get to sleep."
The shopping pace was comfortable at Town Center in Boca Raton and Galleria mall in Fort Lauderdale, with open parking and few if any overcrowded aisles. Other malls were busy but not oppressive.
Big crowds piled up at certain Barnes and Noble, Apple, Ikea, Dillards and toy stores. At Ikea, crews had to direct traffic because parking was so hard to find.
At Coral Square Mall in Coral Springs, buyers of clothing and home-decor items lined up 60 deep at cash registers for sales at Kohl's. Parking was scarce. It was the mall's first year opening at midnight.
“We didn’t know what to expect since we atrract more family-oriented shopper but we had a lot more serious shoppers right from the get-go," said Xiomara Flaga, the mall's marketing and business development director.
At the GameStop video game store in western Pembroke Pines, crowds had thinned to the point where parking was available a few yards from the entrance.
Before dawn, some shoppers had made the frenzy of the year's busiest consumer day into a family affair.
Plantation bargain hunter Carol Isaacs and four relatives took turns camping outside local Target, Best Buy and Sears stores since 10 p.m. Tuesday, so they would have first crack at bargains.
Her main goal: a Kenmore convection oven for $699 that normally sells for $1,200. The tag team also went home with an Xbox 360 gaming console and a 42-inch TV.
The two-day stakeout "is worth it," said Isaacs, 53. "This is my second year doing this. I’m going to save big on a stove. Last year I saved $1,300 on a washer and dryer.”
Aubrey DeJesus and nine of his cousins made their ninth annual shopping rendezvous in Fort Lauderdale, going out together wearing matching rust-colored T-shirts reading "Shop Til You Drop."
By 6 a.m., in a matter of a few hours, DeJesus and his family had collectively spent $800 and were pushing carts full of goodies from Broward Mall and Sawgrass Mills.
“We wake up at 4:15 a.m. and we all go out together to get toys, furniture and clothes," said DeJesus, 21, who traveled from Tallahassee.