From South Florida's Sawgrass Mills mall to Anchorage's 5th Avenue Mall, Americans Friday ignored the doom and gloom from Wall Street and Washington and turned out in droves to take advantage of holiday discounts.
That's good news, not just for nervous retailers but also for the U.S. economy, which is powered largely by consumer spending, and for foreign manufacturers in China and elsewhere that depend heavily on exports to America.
The biggest beneficiaries on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, appeared to be big-box stores such as Wal-Mart and Target that feature low prices and retailers such as Best Buy that offered early shoppers big discounts on popular items such as high-definition televisions and video games.
That, coupled with the fact that shoppers appeared to be spending more carefully, may mean that retail sales and company profits this year may be less than they were during last year's Christmas season, analysts said.
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In Miami, Nubia Vargas's family is only replacing a broken panini grill and a DVD player because she said that her husband lost his second job delivering pizza two months ago when the company downsized. ''There's less money,'' she said.
The day wasn't without tragedy, either. A temporary worker at a Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, N.Y., on Long Island, was trampled to death when eager shoppers broke through the store's doors. In Palm Desert, Calif., two people were shot to death at a Toys "R" Us store.
Elsewhere, however, shoppers lined up before sunrise, and outside a Best Buy in Wichita, Kan., they even pitched tents to grab early morning bargains.
At a Kohl's department store in Bellingham, Wash., more than 750 people were lined up by 4 a.m. At a nearby Wal-Mart, one line stretched from the front entrance along the north side of the parking lot and another wrapped from the front of the store around the south side of the building, nearly to the back. Not only was the Wal-Mart parking lot full of vehicles, but also the lots at a nearby strip mall, car wash and restaurant.
"This is a lot more people than last year," said Donna Henley of British Columbia, who crossed the nearby border from Canada to be one of the first in line at Wal-Mart. "I can't believe the difference."
In Mission, Kan., outside Kansas City, 26-inch Westinghouse flat-panel TVs, marked down to $299 from $429, were nearly sold out three hours after the store opened at 6 a.m. "We've sold at least 25 to 30," said Alissa Wilks, a Target manager.
By 4:45 a.m., the Best Buy in Bradenton, Fla. had a line of several hundred shoppers that wrapped around the shopping plaza, and the parking lot at the Prime Outlets-Ellenton mall began filling up by 12:30 a.m. In Beaufort, S.C., shoppers bundled in winter coats and carrying store circulars touting door-buster deals, lined up before sunrise Friday determined to beat the rush for big gift items at rock-bottom prices. Many of them said that the sagging economy had forced them to cut gift lists and tighten holiday budgets. Grabbing a $400 laptop or a 50-inch plasma television for less than $800 would help stretch wallets further, they said.
In Rock Hill, S.C., at 4 a.m., high school student Joshua Hilkin was first in a long line waiting for a free $50 gift card at the Rock Hill Galleria. Hilkin, 17, said he’d waited in line since 8 p.m. Thanksgiving night to make sure he got a card. “I want to get my girlfriend a gift,'' he said.
From 11 p.m. Thursday to almost midnight, a steady stream of cars filed into the Tanger Outlet Mall's parking lot in Myrtle Beach, S.C., as if it were a Friday night championship football game. License plates in the parking lot ranged from North Carolina and Virginia to Georgia and even tourists from California found time on their trip to shop.
At the Toys "R" Us in Arlington, Texas, between Dallas and Fort Worth, store manager Todd Iverson pumped up his employees at 4:30 a.m. to prepare for the onslaught of hundreds people waiting outside. "Is everybody ready for this? Everybody got a map and an ad?" Iverson asked his workers, "Let’s go!"
A line of about 1,000 people waited outside the doors of the Best Buy in San Luis Obispo, Calif., at 5 a.m., and employees anticipated that Black Friday sales would be as strong as the year before. “The line was just as long and the energy felt good,” said Ron Rich, the manager of the electronics store. Still, he said: “People seem to be much more on purpose this year. They are more under control, not going crazy with multiple carts, very directed toward exactly what they want.”
At Fry's electronics store in North Sacramento, Calif., a line stretched for at least half a mile around the building and the parking lot, and Melchor Viloria was the first in line, having arrived at 10:45 a.m. Thursday. He spent Thanksgiving in line, alone, eating a 10 p.m. dinner of leftover turkey and barbecue chicken that his teenage nephew brought him _ to get a 52-inch flat-panel television for his parents for $1,198.
It was cold outside the Target at the South Hill Mall in Tacoma, Wash., at 9:30 p.m. Thanksgiving, but that's when Chris Leppell and his mom, Gail Leppell, showed up to wait for the doors to open on Black Friday. Chris wanted an Xbox 360 enough to stand outside shivering all night. He’d earned half the early-morning sale price. His mom had come to shiver with him and cover the rest. Things warmed up considerably at 1 a.m., however, when Terri Anderson and Tim Shortsleeve arrived with chairs, blankets and a propane heater.
Elaine Shropshire of Columbia, S.C., showed up at her local Best Buy even earlier. At 8:30 a.m. Thursday, when most people were putting a Thanksgiving turkey in the oven, she pulled up and unloaded a recliner from her car. She briefly questioned her own sanity, but a couple of hours later a man showed up and unloaded a mattress and box spring from his truck.
"I felt a lot better," Shropshire said. "See, I'm normal."
BLACK FRIDAY ACROSS AMERICA
Beaufort (SC): Discounts better than sleep
Bellingham (WA): Crossing the border for a bargain
Belleville (IL): 'We like the rush'
Biloxi (MS): 'Midnight Madness' draws thousands
Boise (ID): No overnight scuffles this year
Bradenton (FL): 'It starts out fun,' but then ...
Charlotte (NC): Lines give religious messengers a captive crowd
Columbia (SC): Bringing a recliner to the parking lot is normal'
Fort Worth (TX): Every cash register open
Fresno (CA): Working since 3:30 a.m., the manager needs a nap
Hilton Head (SC): Ready, set, shop!
Kansas City (MO): Show me a deal
Lexington (KY): Santa shops at Wal-Mart
Macon (GA): Before the leftovers were put away
Miami (FL): 'There's less money'
Myrtle Beach (SC): A wave of shoppers from out of state
Raleigh (NC): 30 minutes to check out, but worth it
Rock Hill (SC): A shortage of gift cards
Sacramento (CA): Bring some leftovers
San Luis Obispo (CA): Bargain-seekers show restraint
State College (PA): Energy drinks help
Tacoma (WA): Divide and conquer
Wichita (KS): Pitching a tent