By Dee-Ann DurbinNEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The holiday shopping season got off to a strong start on Black Friday, with retail sales up 7% over last year, according to the most recent survey. Now stores just have to keep buyers coming back without the promise of door-buster savings. Buyers spent $11.4 billion at retail stores and malls, up nearly $1 billion from last year, according to a Saturday report from ShopperTrak. It was the largest amount ever spent on the day that marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season, and the biggest year-over-year increase since 2007. Chicago-based ShopperTrak gathers data from 25,000 outlets across the U.S., including individual stores and shopping centers.
"This is great, I'm glad I waited," said MaryJane Danan, who drove two hours from Corvallis, Ore., to go shopping with her teenage daughters. She stayed home on Black Friday because she thought the crowds would be huge. But she was surprised by how few people were out Saturday. At Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh, N.C., Mary Aker was forced to use valet parking Friday because she couldn't find a parking spot. But on Saturday, the pace had let up a little, so she and her husband came back to do some more shopping. Aker, 58, a retired librarian, said she's spending about as much as she usually does for Christmas. But she's asking people what they want ahead of time to make sure everyone is happy. At the same mall, sisters Patricia Harrington, Betty Thomas and Laverne Kelly had been shopping all weekend, starting with an all-nighter Thursday after Thanksgiving dinner. The sisters said things calmed down considerably by Friday and Saturday. They suspected a lot of people were shopping online, but they were also underwhelmed by the discounts. "People are losing their jobs. They should have better deals," said Kelly, 50 and a customer service agent at FedEx ( FDX). "There are a lot of people out here but fewer bags," added Thomas, 52 and a health coordinator at a Raleigh hospital. Thanksgiving weekend, particularly Black Friday, is huge for retailers. Over the past six years, Black Friday was the biggest sales day of the year, and it is expected to keep that crown this year, though shoppers seem to be procrastinating more every year and the fate of the holiday season is increasingly coming down to the last few days before Christmas. Last year, the Thanksgiving shopping weekend accounted for 12.1% of overall holiday sales. Black Friday made up about half of that. ___ AP Business Writer Sarah Skidmore contributed from Portland, Ore. AP Business Writer Christina Rexrode contributed from Raleigh, N.C.