With daybreak, an orderly Black Friday finally begins

(MoneyWatch) As the sun rose and weary all-night or shoppers were replaced with caffeinated morning deal seekers, the more orderly phase of Black Friday shopping bonanza ensued. 

Dana Branscum, a 27-year-old grocery store manager, was stopping by a Target in the Chicago suburb of Niles at around 8 a.m. to look for "little things," like movies. The Friday morning visit was her second time at the store in less than 10 hours. She said it was much busier Thursday night than on Friday morning, but it also seemed more civilized than usual. "I've been doing Black Friday for a couple years. It seemed very organized," she said. 

A group of teenage girls looking for bargains at an H&M store in Manhattan at 9 a.m. were somewhat disappointed to find the activity in the store to be pretty much like any other day. "It seems normal," said Julia Burke, who was visiting her cousins for the holiday weekend. But she was pleased to find the deals were "pretty good."

Meantime, familiar tales of mayhem were reported across the country from the wee hours. As usual, Walmart was a focus. For example, police said they pepper-sprayed and arrested a man at a northern New Jersey Walmart store after he became "belligerent" while arguing with another shopper over a television, and then attacked a police officer when the manager called for help.

In a similar set of circumstances, police reportedly arrested two unruly shoppers after a brawl started on a road outside a Wal-Mart in Rialto, Calif. 

While trumpeting early sales figures Friday morning, Bill Simon, president and CEO of Walmart U.S., also noted that so far, it has also been "safer than ever." Some Walmart employees and labor protesters were planning demonstrations on Friday at roughly 1,500 stores across the U.S.

Other retailers also saw their share of scuffles. Outside a Kohl’s store in Romeoville, Ill., south of Chicago, police marked off a crime scene where shots were fired earlier Thursday evening. 

The day after Thanksgiving, called Black Friday, is typically the biggest shopping day of the year. For a decade, it had been considered the official start of the holiday buying season. But in the past few years, retailers have pushed opening times into Thanksgiving night. They've also pushed up discounting that used to be reserved for Black Friday into early November, which may have stolen some of Black Friday's thunder this year.

Overall, the National Retail Federation expects retail sales to be up 4 percent to $602 billion during the last two months of the year. That's higher than last year's 3.5 percent growth, but below the 6 percent pace seen before the recession. Analysts expect sales to be generated at the expense of profits, as retailers will likely have to do more discounting to get people into stores. Indeed, better deals are often available after Black Friday. 

The atmosphere was calm at the stores Judy Phillips and Bonnie Dow had hit Friday morning. Their annual Black Friday trek began Thanksgiving night at a mall in Wilton, a town north of Albany, N.Y. "No one's been fistfighting with anybody," Dow said.

Phillips said they got "great deals" on such items as blankets, sheets and comforters. But, echoing disappointment of shoppers throughout the nation who were hoping to get a great deal on a hot item,  her efforts to buy the popular Furby toy had come up empty. "They're all sold out," she said.

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