CNS--Shoppers jammed Southland stores and malls on "Black Friday"--the first day of the Christmas shopping season--but analysts said it could be one of the worst retail seasons in years because of the faltering economy. At the Glendale Galleria, hundreds of shoppers streamed through the doors at midnight to take advantage of special offers at seven stores that opened early. At the Disney Store, everything was 20 percent off, and youth clothing retailer Aeropostale offered 50 percent off new items and 75 percent off clearance merchandise, according to Janet LaFevre, the Galleria's senior marketing director.
"These are some of the strongest retailers in the entire center," LaFevre said.
"It was a great kickoff for 5 a.m., when the mall really opened."
She said the crowds grew bigger all day and had estimated that more than 500,000 shoppers would visit the mall over the three-day weekend. The Galleria has been open since 1978, and merchants have Black Friday down to a science there.
"It's been great," she said.
"We've been here over 30 years so we've figured this out. In the city of Glendale, we have great city services and police who have crowd control down."
Such was not the case this past Friday morning at a Toys "R" Us store in Palm Desert in Riverside County, where two men were shot and killed in the store while it was filled with parents and children, sparking panic and chaos. Police were still investigating the motive for the shooting, which reportedly began when two women the men were with began fighting. It was also unclear whether both men shot each other, or one shot the other and then himself.
No such incidents were reported in Los Angeles shopping outlets, where some mall parking lots had no vacancies. At Best Buy stores, shoppers queued up overnight, while others waited online for hours to grab vouchers allowing them to buy a limited number of heavily discounted items at the Pasadena Best Buy outlet. The most popular products were Blu Ray DVD players, iPods, flat screen TVs and Guitar Hero game consoles, observers said.
But a store employee told ABC7 that despite the lines and large crowds, there appeared to be fewer Black Friday shoppers this year than last. Some experts said that's not surprising when the economy is in a tailspin and at least 1.2 million people have lost their jobs.
"I don't expect it to be to happy a day for retailers," said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., a non-government organization that tries to attract, retain and grow businesses and jobs in Southern California. "It's going to be very tough."
Amid what he called "a dark mood," Kyser predicted success for Wal- Mart, known for its low prices, but "for most other retailers, its going to continue to be a stream of red ink.
"People are being much more cautious about how they spend their money," Kyser told City News Service.
"They're probably nervous about running up debt on their credit card."
The quest to spend as little as possible prompted one shopper to return a $1,200 television she purchased earlier in the week and take advantage of the Black Friday deals at the Wal-Mart in Rancho Cucamonga.
"I'm glad I waited," said Norma Zuniga as she carted out two high definition televisions and a Nintendo DS game console - all for just $1,000.
"I tried to go back and get a camera and there was so many people in electronics you couldn't even move," she told the newspaper.
"So, I gave that up."
Other merchants described light crowds at stores like the Mervyns in Huntington Beach. The chain is going out of business with signs posted throughout touting "Entire store on sale!" In some cases, employees were trying to lure their friends away from busier stores to fill their near-empty isles. Meanwhile, thousands of shoppers waited outside South Bay retailers with lines snaking around corners in the pre-dawn hours, knowing the best deals would go to those in front.
"I wasn't expecting this," shopper Caroline Parr of Palos Verdes Estates told the Daily Breeze. "I thought I was being really smart. I must be crazy."
The day after Thanksgiving has become known as Black Friday because it marks the period when retailers start turning a profit, marking entries in black ink, rather than using red for the losses they incur the rest of the year. However, LaFevre said the Glendale Galleria has done better in 2008 than many other Southland malls.
"We're having a strong Thanksgiving weekend and our fourth quarter sales increased over 20 percent from last year," she said.
"We're fortunate because we have Target at one end, Nordstroms at the other and J.C. Penney's and Macy's in between. We can accommodate any price that your budget calls for."
And observers say there will always be big demand for the most popular items--even during an economic downturn. According to International Council of Shopping Centers trade association, this year's hot toys include Elmo Live, Bakugan Battle Brawlers, Ultimate Wall*E, U-Dance, Crayola Glow Station, Kota The Triceratops, The Sit to Stand Alphabet Train, Animal Scramble and Girl Gourmet Cupcake Maker. Popular electronic items include digital picture frames, iPods and MP3 players, GPS navigation systems and high definition televisions.
Clothing items in demand include folkloric sweaters, embellished back pocket jeans, novelty screen print T-shirts and brightly colored jeans-style pants. In response to the hype and frenzy Black Friday draws each year, the day after Thanksgiving has been designated as "Buy Nothing Day" by the Vancouver-based anti-consumerist organization Adbusters Media Foundation. The Orange County-based conservation group Back to Natives will mark the day by conducting a hike in the Cleveland National Forest.