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Black Friday arrives early for many local shoppers

Black Friday shopping came gradually this year, starting on Thursday with early store openings, then culminating at midnight and slowing down by mid-morning.

Most of the major retailers had lines prior to their doors opening but none of the chaos associated with traditional Black Friday.

"We've been steady and great. Nothing negative,'' said Chris Bechtel, manager of the Old Navy at WestShore Plaza. "Everyone has been calm, cool and collected.

The store opened from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday then reopened at midnight Friday. Like Walmart and other big Black Friday retailers, it offered door buster deals in waves to avoid some of the frenzy of previous years and spread out the bargains for customers.

Shoppers such as Leslie Skrodski and her daughters Taylor and Laura liked the earlier Black Friday start. By 5 a.m. when they headed out to Macy's at WestShore Plaza, most of the crowds had left.

"We got a spot right out front and all of the big specials were still available,'' Taylor Skrodski said. "I was kind of glad I got to sleep in.''

An estimated 147 million shoppers were expected to hit the stores this three-day holiday weekend, according the National Retail Federation. That's down slightly from last year's estimate, largely because the numbers did not include the Thursday traffic.

Westfield Countryside, Tyrone Square Mall and other shopping centers that opened at midnight saw big crowds until about 3 a.m., mostly people looking for door buster deals.

At Tyrone Square Mall, the parking lot in front of Macy's was packed at about 6 a.m. Shoppers, some in their pajamas, sprinted toward the entrance to escape Friday morning's chilly temperatures.

The busiest areas inside the mall appeared to be at the department stores. At JCPenney, at least three registers were open with lines of about 30 people each.

Among the customers exiting the store was Ruth Harrower, of Redington Beach. With bags dangling from both arms, Harrower said she scored some sales early Friday, including a pair of slippers for $8 and a tote bag filled with Bath & Body Works products.

"I started at the other end of the mall and have been shopping my way up to this end of the mall," Harrower said.

Harrower said she started shopping at 4 a.m. and would also be visiting Bed Bath & Beyond, Office Depot, Home Depot, and CVS.

At about 7 a.m., most of the couches outside Tyrone Square stores were packed with shoppers taking breaks from the sales. One man, a shopping bag clutched to his chest, slouched in a chair as he slept. The Starbucks inside the mall was packed with customers.

After shopping since 4 a.m. Friday, William Benger, of St. Pete Beach, sat in a couch surrounded by bags as he munched on a hotdog.

Benger said he had spent about $225 in items, including a shirt, vest, boots for his daughter and several outfits for his son.

At the Best Buy on 22nd Avenue N, the lines were short about 8 a.m.

James Bumgardner, of Treasure Island, walked out of the store grasping a 24-inch flatscreen TV in each hand.

He had a plan. First, he visited Best Buy to check out the prices. Then he went to Sears and Walmart to compare. At $160, Best Buy had the best deal, so Bumgardner returned to the store and purchased the TV's.

Bumgardner said Black Friday shopping appeared calmer this year. Last year, he got to the stores at midnight.

But this year, he waited until 6 a.m. to start shopping.

"A little bit more relaxed," he said. "We waited... we kind of let the crowds beat us."

Black Friday arrives early for many local shoppers 11/23/12 [Last modified: Friday, November 23, 2012 10:00am]

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