A Furby frenzy caused lines 300-people deep outside many local toy stores and department stores Friday morning, as the holiday buying season officially began.
The crowds were big and anxious outside area stores. Raymond Andol of Buffalo knuckled sleep out of his eyes and sipped a steamy cup of coffee as he waited outside a Target store on Niagara Falls Boulevard at 6:30 a.m. His mission: to find a Furby, the big-eyed furry white critter that has become the season's rage.
The mechanical pet arrives speaking "Furbish" and through play begins to speak real words.
Andol's quest was fruitless; most stores ran out of the popular toy within minutes after the doors opened.
"This is the first time I've ever done this -- and it's going to be the last. Getting up at 4:30 to go shopping isn't for me," said Andol.
In Batavia, shoppers' quest for the $30 electronic interactive pet became so intense that a 76-year-old woman and her grandson said they were knocked to the ground as people dashed into a Wal-Mart when staffers unlocked the doors.
"It was ridiculous. People were knocking us down for a toy. Is a toy worth it if you have to literally step on someone to get it?" asked Pembroke resident John Wysocki.
He said his grandmother, Victoria Lysek, also of Pembroke, suffered a cut hand and knee. Two years ago, the woman underwent double-bypass surgery.
Thomas Kosinski, a Wal-Mart manager, downplayed the incident.
"To say that someone was stomped is in an exaggeration. I know of one incident in which someone was scraped," he said.
Back at a KB Toys outlet on Elmwood Avenue, Roberta Smyers finished her shopping expedition by 7 a.m. She filled her son's truck to the hilt with boxes and bags of toys. When she arrived at 5:30 a.m., there were already a couple of hundred people trolling the aisles.
"I can't believe there are this many crazy people in Buffalo," she chuckled.
Many stores offered premium gifts and deep discounts to early shoppers. Ms. Smyers said she received a free Toss and Tickle Elmo for spending $100 -- an easy feat since her only grandchild will be visiting from Las Vegas over Christmas.
But even with the special promotions and slashed prices, there will probably be busier shopping days before Christmas. Contrary to the retail myth, the day after Thanksgiving is usually not the biggest day for retailers.
James L. Soos, general manager at Walden Galleria, said many shoppers wait until the last minute. "When I track the entire season, the day after Thanksgiving usually ranks in the top five shopping days. From a volume standpoint, it's usually not quite as strong as the two or three days right before Christmas," he said.
But he said the balmy weekend forecast could fuel heavier-than-usual shopping patterns.
The mall manager said he has been talking with many anchor tenants and there seems to be an optimism about holiday sales prospects. Industry analysts are predicting that sales will increase by 4 to 7 percent this holiday compared with last year's figure.
The National Retail Federation said the strong economy and high consumer confidence should bode well for most merchandisers.
Pamela Rucker, spokeswoman for the Washington-based coalition, said the forecast is based on a recent national survey of consumers.
"All of the indicators seem to be in cosmic alignment. The economy is hot, and people are feeling good. When they feel good, they spend," Ms. Rucker said.
At a Town of Tonawanda Kmart store, Christmas trappings peaked out of many bags as departing shoppers took advantage of sale prices. Sue Bieter and Denise Davis were stuffing their car trunk with wrapping paper, Christmas tree lights and other decorations.
Others were just out to check prices, get some gift-giving ideas and keep others company.
Then there was a group of students from Kenmore West who were at a North Buffalo store buying $400 worth of toys for needy children. They raised the money through events that were staged during the year. Jennifer Wudyka, a recent graduate of Kenmore West, said her shopping brigade hit the road at 5 a.m.