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Shoppers flood area stores Black Friday draws huge crowds of buyers despite uncertainties

They came. They shopped. They bought.

Malls and stores throughout the Buffalo Niagara region overflowed with holiday shoppers all day Friday. Deep discounts helped create long lines at cash registers and crowded parking lots as shoppers grabbed everything from computers and Guitar Hero III games, to clothes and flat-screen TVs.

Rose Duncan of Lancaster took the Black Friday shopping tradition seriously. Armed with a notebook of gift lists, a highlighter and a file full of coupons, she marched into the Walden Galleria at 5 a.m. and completed all her buying by 8:15 a.m.

"I'm done," Duncan proudly proclaimed, noting she'd been preparing for her shopping blitz for weeks.

"Christmas is my favorite time of the year. I just love to buy everybody presents, and it's important to me to get the right thing," she added.

Ray Canderella of Lockport was less clear about his mall mission.

"My wife made me come here," Canderella confessed, as he wandered through the Galleria, zero bags in hand. "I'm her designated driver, I guess. I don't even like shopping."

National forecasts for the 2007 holiday shopping season anticipate meager year-over-year sales growth of 4 percent -- the smallest gain since 2002 and below the 10-year average of 4.8 percent. Rising fuel prices and fallout from the crumbling of the subprime mortgage market are expected to make consumers pull back in their gift giving.

A survey by Discover Financial Services released this week showed that 55 percent of consumers said they would spend less on holiday shopping this year.

But such restraint was hard to find among the early-early shoppers on Friday.

Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls kicked off the day-after-Thanksgiving retail frenzy at 12:01 a.m., giving new meaning to "early bird" discounts. It didn't take long for the main center parking lot and all of its overflow lots to fill up, said Julie Clark, spokeswoman for the outlet mall.

"This is the first time we've done it, and it went phenomenally well," Clark said.

Super-deep discounts, with prices slashed as much as 75 percent, got the shopping party started from midnight until 2 a.m., packing the Town of Niagara center. The line to get into Coach leather products zigzagged down the corridor and out the door during the wee hours of the morning.

Galleria marketing director Russ Fulton said while he wasn't surprised with the number of shoppers in the mall, he was taken aback by the numbers of bags they were carrying.

"Black Friday brings out a lot of browsers, but these people weren't just looking, they were buying," Fulton said.

The day after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday is called Black Friday because at one time it was considered the day retailers turned profitable for the year. It will probably be the busiest shopping day of 2007, Chicago-based ShopperTrak RCT Corp predicted.

Fulton was getting reports of robust sales from his Galleria tenants throughout the day.

Sue Hazelwood of Brighton, Ont., led a posse of shoppers, which included two daughters, a daughter-in-law, and two granddaughters, through the Galleria. The seasoned, cross-border shopping gang drove 3 1/2 hours to Niagara Falls, N.Y., on Thursday. They got hotel rooms, rested briefly, then headed to the outlet mall just after midnight.

By 6:30 a.m. they had begun their assault on the Galleria, armed with detailed lists and walkie-talkies to keep track of each other.

"We'll carry on like this until we drop," Hazelwood said.

Already a fan of stores like J.C. Penney and Disney, which don't have outlets in Canada, she said the strong Canadian dollar -- worth $1.01 U.S. on Friday -- will keep her and her family members on this side of the border through Saturday.

More than 132 million shoppers may shop this weekend, the National Retail Federation said. Last year, 58.9 million people went shopping on Black Friday, and 49 million the next day.

Shoppers burst through the doors of the Target store in Amherst's Boulevard Consumer Square at 6 a.m., seeking deals on such holiday hot-sellers as "Guitar Hero III" and "Halo III Special Edition" with an Xbox 360 system.

Big box retailers saw lots of action in their electronics departments, as flat-screen TVs, digital cameras and MP3 players flew off the shelves.

Kevin Holton of Kenmore left the Kmart on Hertel Avenue with two digital cameras early Friday morning.

"I got them for under $100 apiece. That's why I came here," Holton said.

Independent retailers along Buffalo's Elmwood Avenue were also reporting strong foot traffic. Lou Schreiber, owner of Lu Modern Classics, at 504 Elmwood Ave., said he was seeing "buyers, not lookers" in his apparel shop.

While the upscale shop did not look to attract customers with "door-busters" or a crack-of-dawn opening, patrons were enjoying refreshments, free gift wrapping and free delivery.

"We're not doing any special promotions or discounts and they are buying," Schreiber said. "I'm knocking on wood as we speak."


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