‘Black Friday’ Shoppers, Retailers Cautious Amid Weak Economy

Preliminary reports by from several major retailers, including Macy’s and Toys “R” Us, said that crowds were at least as large as last year’s, reported the Associated Press.

Retailers extended their hours and offered deep discounts deals to entice wary shoppers. Some stores opened Thursday night at midnight.

“I have never slept here before to save a few bucks, but with the economy so bad I thought that even a few dollars helps,” Analita Garcia of Falls Church, Va., told the AP. Garcia arrived at a local Best Buy store at 7 a.m. Thursday with 10 family members.

Rob Schoeneck, manager of a shopping mall in Syracuse, N.Y., estimated about 1,000 people were waiting for an electronics store to open and said the crowd was about the same size as a year ago, reported the AP.

In Long Island, N.Y., a 34-year-old man working at a Wal-Mart died as a throng of shoppers broke down the doors trying to enter the store at 5 a.m., police said.

At least four other people were injured, and the store was closed.

Shopping malls across the United States have felt the impact of the financial crisis, with some entering foreclosure — victims of the same events damaging the housing market.

Unlike home mortgages, however, businesses don’t pay their loans over 30 years. Commercial mortgages are usually written for five, seven or 10 years with big payments due at the end.

Circuit City and Linens ‘n Things have sought bankruptcy protection. Home Depot, Sears, Ann Taylor and Foot Locker are closing stores.

“Black Friday” received its name because it historically was the day when a surge of shoppers helped stores break into profitability for the full year. This year, with promotions of up to 70 percent throughout the month amid a deteriorating economy, the power of this day for the retail industry could be fading.

Last year, the Thanksgiving shopping weekend of Friday through Sunday accounted for about 10 percent of overall holiday sales, according to ShopperTrak RCT Corp.

The group hasn’t released estimates for Black Friday sales this year, but many experts believe it will remain one of the season’s biggest selling days, even as shoppers remain deliberate in their spending.

“This is definitely a hit-and-run mentality,” C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America’s Research Group, told the AP. “They are running in, grabbing the deal and running out. This is what I am seeing this morning.”

Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at NPD Group, told Reuters early store traffic was lighter this year but had picked up by midday. “The traffic is up compared to last year, but the bag count is down,” he said. “There may be more casual shoppers, but they’re not buying as much as last year.”

“If you don’t get a good Black Friday start, you’ve got an awful lot of ground to make up,” Cohen said.