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Braving 'Black Friday' Crowds

Shoppers braved chilly temperatures to be among the first inside retail stores and shopping malls on Friday, traditionally one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Some, like Sheila Patnode of Coventry, ended up waiting longer to get out of stores than they did to get in.

"Two-and-a-half hours in line. My son better appreciate this," Patnode said lightheartedly as she waited with a home digital surround sound system in a checkout line that snaked through a Best Buy in Warwick.

Dubbed Black Friday because it's the day retailers are said to move out of the "red," symbolizing losses, and into the "black" for the money-making Holiday season. The day after Thanksgiving is counted on by retailers to boost sales as stores offer deep discounts to entice customers. Many shoppers looked for discounted DVD players and other electronics; others searched for toys, clothes and sporting goods on sale for half-price.

Getting up early on the day after Thanksgiving didn't mean a head-start for shoppers in Lafayette, La.

They got to the city's biggest retailers to find that the locks on dozens of those stores had apparently been glued shut by vandals. Hundreds of shoppers were kept waiting on line, as store managers brought in locksmiths to drill the doors and remove the locks.

One locksmith says the glue must have been pretty strong. He says it gummed up everything inside the locks.

Police say they have no suspects. They say if they find the culprits, the charges could include criminal mischief or criminal damage to property.

In the Northeast, Kellie Marcione, 35, of Fall River, Mass., and Sue Briggs, 45, of West Warwick, spent about 20 minutes in the same Best Buy line before getting discouraged and leaving without the DVD player they wanted.

Marcione found another — albeit more expensive — at a nearby Wal-Mart. She woke up at 4 a.m. to meet up with Briggs to hunt for clothes, toys and other items on sale.

"Everything is for the kids, except the chips," said Briggs, referring to a bag of cheese curls the two were munching on outside the store at 9 a.m., before heading for breakfast.

The pair estimated they saved about $100 after more than three hours of shopping at several stores. They said the thrill of the chase helped offset the disappointment of not finding everything they wanted, such as a sold-out Dancing Dora doll.

"It's the rush and the savings," Marcione said. "Some of the lines were too long, but it is fun."

Not every turkey-stuffed American goes to the mall on the day after Thanksgiving.

For some, Black Friday — or the start of the holiday shopping season — is a time to worship at the altar of the Stairmaster.

Tom Stone works in a gym in New York's East Village. He says the day after Thanksgiving is, in his words, "ridiculous crowded." Some of the gym's patrons say the Friday workout is part of their Thanksgiving plan.

"I went for that extra piece of cake," Fran Giuffre giggled. "And everything's fine today."

At least two chains - J.C. Penney Co. Inc. and Sears, Roebuck and Co. - opened their doors anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour earlier than a year ago to grab a bigger share of consumers' dollars. Sears, for example, opened at 6 a.m., instead of 7 a.m., and is offering three times as many deals than a year ago. Penney had a 5:30 a.m. opening, instead of 6 a.m.

Taubman Centers Inc., which owns or manages 22 shopping centers nationwide, including upscale N.J.'s upscale Short Hills Mall, was hoping to lure early bird shoppers with free food and drinks - plus pep rallies, complete with high school cheerleaders and a disc jockey.

The deep discounts and refreshments were a bid by merchants to ring up their holiday sales fast. And they're keeping their fingers crossed that, in an improving though still challenging economy, the crowds will keep coming throughout the next month.

By the time Wal-Mart's store in a Buffalo, N.Y. suburb of Hamburg opened its doors at 6 a.m., 1,000 people had formed a lined that spanned the entire store front, despite temperatures of 31 degrees.

"It's our tradition," said Ruth Pompeo, of Lackawanna, N.Y., who was up at 3 a.m. and in line by 4:30 a.m. with her 11-year-old niece Shelby Strack. "I don't know what I'm here to grab, actually, " she said. "Whatever I can."

Many of the early bird specials on hot items were in short supply. At another Wal-Mart store in Alpharetta, Ga., just north of Atlanta, a supply of discounted Video Now personal video players sold out in just 12 minutes.

However, CBS News Correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi reports, the big thing this year is gift cards. On average, teen girls received eight gift cards in 2003. For retailers, the trend is actually stretching the shopping season well into January.

Many shoppers mapped out a strategy to get the most coveted bargains.

"The deals are better this early in the morning," said Karen Dawkins, from Cayce, S.C., who was at a Toys R Us store in Columbia, S.C. and was almost done with her buying shortly after 6 a.m. "I have my mother at Circuit City and my sister at we have people stationed at other stores."

She added, "We all got together after Thanksgiving dinner and got the ads and made a list."

Debbie Redmon of Thayer, Mo., set her alarm for 3:20 a.m. but woke up at 3 a.m., ready to take advantage of bargain shopping in Little Rock, Ark.

"I guess the adrenaline was flowing," she said.

She and daughter-in-law Kerri Littleton of Benton, Ark., hit the same places in Little Rock every year: BestBuy, then Kohl's, then Staples, then Sports Authority. They had their eyes on BestBuy's Sony PlayStation2 for $149.99 and an MP3 player marked down from $129.99 to $29.99.

"We'll finish up all our shopping today," Redmon said. "But we're usually at some place even after it gets dark. Then I collapse tomorrow."

Crystal Rhoades of Wake Forest, N.C., stood in front of Hudson Belk department store at Triangle Town Center in Raleigh, N.C. with Darlene Hackney of Creedmoor in temperatures hovering around 33 degrees.

Rhoades says it's her second or third time taking advantage of the early opening for the after-Thanksgiving sales. The day after Thanksgiving is known as "Black Friday" in the retailing business because the surge of shoppers has been known to push stores into profitability for the year.

"Since I had to go to work today, I figured I'd come in here before I go to work," she added. "So I've got until 7 o'clock to find a deal. After that, I'm out of here. I've got to be at work by 8 o'clock."

Rhoades had a short list until she spoke to Hackney.

"Sears has a DVD player for $19.99, so that's what I came out here to get. But since she told me about the bracelet and the earrings, I'm going to get one of those, too," she said.

In Manchester, Conn., Claude Samson, lined up at 3 a.m. in front of Wal-Mart, two hours before the store opened. He filled two carts full of toys and cooking supplies.

"I think it's a little crazy and there's probably a simpler way of doing this, but at the same time, you are saving so much," he said. "When you are saving $30 or $40 on a gift, you're going to do what you have to do."

Sheila Buckman, a 44 year-old student from Boston, student, woke at 3:45 a.m. and braved subfreezing temperatures to make her way to the CambridgeSide Galleria in Cambridge, Mass.

Buckman, who said she was on a tighter budget this year than in the past, said she was enticed by good deals at KB Toys store, which opened at 5 a.m. After buying some Yu-Gi-Oh trading cards for her children, Buckman raced over to Sears to pick up one of the $10 gift cards being handed out to store's first 200 shoppers.

"I'm on a limited income so I can't go crazy," she Buckman, who used the gift card to purchase socks. "Hopefully, I'm going to get some bargains."

Things weren't going as well in the cold and rainy Bismarck, N.D., where only about 100 people were in line at Wal-Mart by 4:30 a.m., a half hour before opening, compared with several hundred last year.

"Last year, they broke down a door trying to get in," said Mary Lou Horning, a Wal-Mart employee who has been through a half-dozen Black Fridays. "It's wild. It's an amazing day."

"I think the weather has definitely an impact, but they'll be here," Horning said.

Many of the Wal-Mart shoppers said they wanted to by a 24-inch flat-screen Symphonic television, on sale for $139.92.

Many of the nation's retailers are not panicking - not just yet anyway, according to John Morris, an analyst at Harris Nesbitt. They're just trying to drive as much traffic earlier in the season, he said. In fact, discounting for the mall-based apparel retailers he follows is 5 percent below what it was a year ago.

Retailers' spirits have improved in recent weeks as falling fuel prices and job gains revived consumer spending momentum that slowed in the summer.

But many shoppers, particularly those with limited disposable income, are saying they will be cautious. Fuel prices remain high, and the job market is still volatile.

The Washington-based National Retail Federation projects that total sales, after restaurant and auto sales are excluded, will increase 4.5 percent for the November-December period. That would be less than the 5.1 percent gain of a year earlier.

Michael Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers, predicts a "pretty good Christmas," estimating that sales at stores opened at least a year for the November-December period will be up anywhere from 3 percent to 4 percent. That compares to a 4 percent rise a year ago.

Retailers' efforts last year to get shoppers to buy early paid off.

During the 2003 holiday shopping season, the busiest day was the Friday after Thanksgiving, instead of the last Saturday before Christmas, which was the second busiest day, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. That reversed a trend seen over the last ten years, when the busiest day was the Saturday before Christmas, according to Mike Niemira, chief economist at the industry group.