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Black Friday in Western Pennsylvania: 'A big, mad rush'

| Friday, Nov. 23, 2012, 11:26 p.m.
Jennifer Haller of Eldersburg Maryland sits amongst all of the packages that she and her friend Jamie Davis of Belle Vernon purchased at Westmoreland Mall on black friday November 23, 2012. Haller, who was in the area visting her friend, began her first ever black friday shopping experience at 4:30am and hoped to continue till dinner time. Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Parking lots are at capacity at The Mall at Robinson on Black Friday morning, November 23rd, 2012. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review

Just a couple of days into the holiday retail onslaught, shoppers have picked favorites likely to lead sales through December.

A talking toy robot, a nimble video game system and durable cold-weather clothes rank among the early winners, market analysts said as Black Friday bargain hunters began a long weekend of rapid sales.

“It's really turning into a big, mad rush for apparel, shoes and especially consumer electronics,” said Brian Hoyt, a senior writer and research manager in Austin, Texas, for coupon website

He said consumers are busting out of the 2008 recession to buy computers, smartphones, digital cameras and other gadgetry, relieving four years of pent-up demand.

Snow-worthy coats, hats and boots were selling, too, after last year's mild winter depressed sales. Anticipation of a colder season reignited interest in the apparel, said Phoenix-based retail consultant Jeff Green.

“Boots in general have done very well for us,” said Jacquelyn Deitrietch, sales manager at Clarks shoe store in South Hills Village mall. “That's probably been our best seller so far.”

Shoppers began hitting Western Pennsylvania stores late Thursday, the start of what has become a four-day shopping weekend.

Not everyone appreciated the schedule expansion. Industry pacesetter Wal-Mart, in particular, took flak for its 8 p.m. opening on Thanksgiving Day.

By 2 a.m. Friday, Best Buy had sold out of seven laptop models that were among its online specials.

At the company's Greensburg store, a line formed hours before the doors opened at midnight. About 100 people waited outside at least four hours for the opening.

Dana Williams of Greensburg rolled into the parking lot on Monday to queue up for a deeply discounted laptop and TV. She spent nights sleeping in her van and days standing outside the store.

“I'll save $500 to $600,” Williams said.

At Toys R Us next door, a much shorter line materialized. Market observers said the Furby, a chatty robot introduced in 1998, is surging to become one of the must-have toys of the season.

“They have kind of come back to life as a full-size doll that kids have fallen in love with,” Hoyt said. “... This has turned into the Cabbage Patch Kid of 2012.”

Higher up the price list is Nintendo's Wii U video game system, another hit of the season.

At South Hills Village, Game Stop assistant manager Simon Winthrop expected to sell his inventory of eight Wii U systems within hours.

He credited the toy's tablet-style controller and design that gives users “pseudo-flexibility.”

Overall holiday spending should grow 4.5 percent this season, according to the advisory group FTI Consulting Inc. Growing consumer enthusiasm is pushing that trend. Consumer confidence numbers are running about 20 points higher than a year ago, said FTI Global Practice co-leader Bob Duffy.

“The reality is that consumers are feeling much better today, with respect to their own situations, than they did a year ago,” Duffy said.

Shoppers and workers said they had a hard time telling whether business had spiked.

At the Mall at Robinson, crowds just after 7:30 a.m. did not seem as robust as in past years, said Mark Bamberry, 56, of Hookstown.

“It could be because a lot of these places opened last night, I guess,” Bamberry said. He got up at 5 a.m. to play chauffeur for shoppers in his family.

Rhyne Redula, 23, of South Slide Slopes started work at 4 a.m. at Sunglass Hut. Working on her eighth Black Friday, she considered the Robinson mall morning traffic moderate.

“It's still really pleasurable at this point,” she said.

The scene was not so serene late Thursday at Ross Park Mall, where Sears opened at 8 p.m. The main mall did not open until midnight, when a crowd 20 shoppers deep pressed against an interior gate at Sears. A few pounded fists on loose metal.

Black Friday veteran Jackie Scott, 45, of West View offered little love for the expanding shopping hours.

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

Demand probably will swing toward gift cards later in the shopping season, said Green, the retail consultant. He projected gift card sales could climb as much as 10 percent this year.

That's because retailers, under pressure from Wall Street, kept a lid on inventory this year, Green said. That could cause some stores to run out of popular items and shoppers to depend more on gift cards.

For Redula, who would not finish working until 9 p.m., holiday shopping might mean not going anywhere.

“I do a lot of it on the Internet,” she said. “I won't even lie.”

Adam Smeltz and Amanda Dolasinskiare staff writers for Trib Total Media.Smeltz can be reached at 412-380-5676 or can be reached at 724-836-6220 or writers Dan Stefano and Patrick Varine contributed to this report.

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