Shoppers flock by thousands to Western Pennsylvania stores, malls for Black Friday

| Friday, Nov. 23, 2012, 6:16 a.m.

Update: 12:48 p.m.

Pittsburgh Mills Mall General Manager Jerry Crites said 30 to 40 stores opened at midnight, many more than in 2011.“It's a big difference for us,” he said. “We used open at 6 a.m. and stay busy all day.”He said the mall was busy until 3 a.m., tailed off for several hours and then became busy again around 8 or 9 a.m.Shopping on Black Friday has become a tradition for Jen Cousins and her mother-in-law, Cheryl Cousins, both of Kittanning, and Cheryl's daughter, Michelle Vorpe of Ford City. Taking a noontime break inside the mall Friday, Jen Cousins said the trio has been shopping together on Black Friday for almost a decade.“We came at 10:30 (a.m.),” Jen Cousins said. “We started at our Walmart in Kittanning at 4:30 and then went to (Clearview Mall) in Butler. We haven't had to stand in line to get in anywhere.”

Update: 8:07 a.m.

At the Mall at Robinson, shoppers queued up for caffeine early Friday at a Starbucks. Many had been awake since sometime before dawn.

"I'm just the chauffeur,” said Mark Bamberry, 56, of Hookstown, waiting for family outside Macy's about 7:30 a.m. He was up at 5 a.m. and expected about eight hours of shopping.

But “for this time of day, it doesn't seem as busy” as prior years, Bamberry said. “It could be because a lot of these places opened last night, I guess.”

Debi Cattley, 55, of the Baden area said it looked like early-morning Robinson mall traffic had eased somewhat from earlier years. She and her daughter arrived shortly before 4 a.m.

“In the parking lot, it looks like there's a lot of people, a lot of cars,” said Cattley, shopping for tools for her husband. “But to me, it seems like it's (normally) more crowded.”

A number of retail forecasts have projected a relatively robust start to holiday shopping. But Black Friday has become more of a protracted, four-day shopping event and less of a one-day spurt, retail analysts said.

“This is getting busier by the minute,” said Robinson mall shopper Jim Monroe, 60, of Richmond, Ohio.

Taking a break after 7 a.m., he said he brought three grandchildren to do holiday shopping for their parents.

“I'll be loaded with bags before we get out of here,” Monroe said.

Update: 3:56 a.m.

Their plan was simple: Danielle Thomas would steer a cart around aisles as her sister Melissa Thomas ran ahead to grab hot items from the shelves and toss them in the cart before everything was snatched up.

The Masontown sisters spent weeks scouring through store ads in preparation for the most exciting shopping day of the year — Black Friday. By 10 p.m. Thanksgiving night, the tag team had already crossed off their lists for items at Walmart and Kmart.

Now, just two hours stood between them and finishing. They waited outside the Uniontown Mall shivering, while sipping coffee to pick back up some of their slowing retail steam.

“At least its not raining,” Danielle said, going over ideas for items they'd purchase at Aeropostale and Finish Line.

The women joined thousands of other shoppers around Western Pennsylvania who cut their Thanksgiving celebrations short in order to get deals on gifts. Most shoppers agreed Black Friday deals would save them hundreds of dollars, but didn't like starting early this year.

Black Friday traditionally starts the day after Thanksgiving, but retailers have raised the stakes in recent years. Walmart received flak for announcing plans to open at 8 p.m. Thursday this year.

Digital cameras, laptops, flat-screen TVs, smartphones and X-boxes would be the biggest electronic deals this year, analysts predicted. By 2 a.m., Best Buy sold out of seven different laptop models that were part of its online specials. And a line wrapped around Greensburg's Best Buy started forming hours before the store opened at midnight Friday.

Dana Williams didn't even wait until Thanksgiving dinner was prepared. The Greensburg woman headed to Best Buy on a quest for a deeply discounted laptop and TV — on Monday.

She spent nights sleeping in her van and the days standing outside of the store until the moment the doors would slide open Friday at midnight.

“I'll save $500 to $600,” she said.

There were about 100 people in line ahead of friends Jake Hall, 20; Nate Senf, 23; and Wesley Jackson, 21, around 8 p.m. Jackson's sympathetic girlfriend stopped by to drop off blankets as they waited to purchase headphones and video game equipment.

“I just want to get what I want quickly,” Hall said.

Next door at Toys R Us, a much shorter line stretched in front of the building. Staff there limited the number of people in the store by roping off the line until the first wave was finished.

It opened at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving.

Three sisters were loading bags full of toys in their van a little after midnight.

“We got everything we wanted and more,” Tiffani Recker, of North Huntingdon, said.

They weren't so pleased, however, to cut Thanksgiving short.

“It should not be this early,” Kara Delsignore, also of North Huntingdon, said. “I refuse to be here at 6 p.m. or 8 p.m. waiting in line.”

Update: 2:41 a.m.

Participating in post-Thanksgiving commerce for 24 years has made Jackie Scott a Black Friday veteran. The bags filling a table on the outskirts of the Ross Park Mall food court just a half hour past midnight attested to that.

The event isn't quite the same, though.

“It was always great, until they started opening earlier,” said Scott, 45, of West View, “and now the mall is filled with nothing but teenagers, who totally just ruin it and clog the stores.”

The earlier openings — some as many as four hours before midnight don't mean Scott and her family are reluctant to brave the stores of suburbia, though. They've adapted.

“We had a game plan,” Scott said. “We started at Target and Walmart. We actually went to two Target stores. Then we were going to come here to hit Victoria's Secret, Hollister, Abercombie (and Fitch).

“When you go down to Hollister, there's just a line of teenagers.”

It was Victoria's Secret, however, that appeared to have the longest line winding into the already-packed concourse.

Even a store that remained closed garnered a bit of a crowd, with a few confused technophiles peering into the Apple Store — its lights dimmed and no troubleshooting sages manning the Genius Bar.

Update: 2:30 a.m.

It could have been a refugee camp, but it was Sears.

One minute before midnight, a mass of people 20 shoppers deep was pressing the store's gate into Ross Park Mall, an overeager few pounding with fists on the loose metal. Others used the wait inside the early-opening department store as a breather, staking claims to the inviting mattresses on display.

When the gate finally rose, Ben Smith was on his way into the parking lot.

Taking advantage of Sears' 8 p.m. opening — and a coupon — Smith grabbed a pair of suits, some dress shoes and ties at a sharp discount. No way was he interested in midnight madness, not after going through it last November at Best Buy.

“I just was thinking I was going to beat those crowds this year,” said Smith, a 20-year-old Robert Morris student from the North Hills. “And I did — into submission.”

Update: 2:15 a.m.

Chris and JoAnne O'Donnell of Gibsonia were a pair of Black Friday first-timers. One might even be coming back.

Peering down on crowds of shoppers from the upper level of Ross Park Mall, the weary Chris was waiting for his wife to leave Abercrombie Kids. The father of six and chaperone of JoAnne had seen enough.

“It's crazy. I probably won't come back again, but my wife will,” Chris said. “I'd rather shop during the normal hours.”

Update: 2 a.m.

BethEllyn DiPaola and Megan DeFiore came dressed for the task at hand.

Wearing matching “Black Friday: Shop til you drop or get trampled on” t-shirts — ordered online by DeFiore — the friends jumped into line at Ross Park Mall's Aunt Annie's Pretzels around 1 p.m., ready to carry on a tradition.

“We've been going for eight years, and we get matching shirts every year,” DiPaola said. “We really don't go after big items. We enjoy the crowds, and we like to go and hear the funny stories of the chaos.”

Update: 1 a.m.

Emily Zorak of Murrysville barely had time to digest her turkey on Thursday before getting her Black Friday started. Out with fellow Murrysville residents Leah and Michelle Myers, Zorak was waiting outside Ulta at the Monroeville Mall, where more than 20 stores opened at 12:01 a.m. on Black Friday.

But the trio had already been to Target and Kmart, and had designs on Macy's, Kohl's and Best Buy, where Zorak was hoping to find a keyboard for her nephew.

As for the stop at Ulta?

“I'm just trying to get some makeup for myself,” she said, as both Myers' nodded in agreement.

Update: 12:30 a.m.

Barbie and Jeff Schlafer of Monroeville were one of the first 20 or so people in line outside one of Macy's entrances at the Monroeville Mall. The couple was out shopping for the second Black Friday in a row, but they weren't looking for anything in particular, just to get some of their holiday shopping done.

“Macy's just has great sales, and why not take advantage?” Barbie said.

“With the economic times, Black Friday becomes even more important when it comes to stretching your money,” Jeff said.

Update: 12:01 a.m.

Caroline Greiner of Pittsburgh was at Monroeville Mall for the first time on a Black Friday, but this is her fourth time coming out on the year's busiest shopping day. She was hoping to find a good deal on a bag at Victoria's Secret, unlike her shopping partner Matt Lockwood, who had already picked up tools at Sears.

“They opened at 8 (p.m.),” Caroline said.

Staff writers Patrick Varine, Dan Stefano, Amanda Dolasinski and Adam Smeltz contributed to this report.

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