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Stores prepare for Black Friday

| Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2008

With Black Friday, the biggest day of the holiday shopping season, just a couple of days away, retailers are concerned -- and they should be, according to a local economist.

Sharon Smith, Ph.D., president of the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg and a former economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York specializing in domestic research and major retailers, said the struggling economy is just one reason for concern.

"The Christmas buying season is the most important buying season of the year for retailers," Smith said.

The primary cause for concern is something retailers couldn't change -- timing. The holiday shopping season is notably shorter this year because Thanksgiving is late in the month and Christmas falls on a Thursday, eliminating a shopping weekend from the season.

"The uncertainty of the economy and the wild fluctuations in the market are making retailers really uncomfortable," Smith said.

However, as a consumer, she has noticed that shoppers are doing less browsing and more buying. That, coupled with extremely deep discounts retailers are offering, should give the cash registers a boost.

"Volume-wise, they will make their sales," Smith said. "They are just using deep discounts to get it."

That bodes well for shoppers heading out on Black Friday.

While the traditional opening to the holiday shopping season usually offers a variety of great deals, shoppers this year should find the discounts larger and more prevalent.

Retailers are expecting shoppers to be out in record numbers.

"We expect Black Friday to be a very busy day in our stores," said Robert Levin, owner of Levin Furniture in Mt. Pleasant.

This year, Levin's is offering several special deals, such as the store's first buy-one, get-one recliner sale.

As far as advice for Black Friday shoppers, Levin has only one tip: "Shop early on Friday. Some specials are Friday only." Levin Furniture opens at 9 a.m. -- a full hour earlier than its regular hours.

Shoppers who rise even earlier can visit Uniontown Mall, which will open its doors at 5 a.m. for the Pajama Jam, a kickoff of the mall's Operation PJ Pile Up campaign. A multi-mall initiative, the Pajama Jam is a celebration of the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust's charity drive, Operation PJ Pile Up, which has a mission of delivering warm PJs and nurturing books to tens of thousands of abused or abandoned children.

Uniontown Mall's goal is to collect 25,000 pairs of new pajamas and 2,500 books through Dec. 31. The mall is asking that shoppers bring a pair of pajamas or a new book for this worthwhile cause. Shoppers can drop them off at customer service or at the Operation PJ Pile Up collection bin. Sizes are needed from toddler to adult.

Mall employees and volunteers will also be dressed in their pajamas as shoppers hurry from store to store in search of ideal holiday gifts and Black Friday bargains. Free party bags will be given to the first 500 shoppers through the door. Free refreshments (while supplies last) and holiday entertainment will also be available.

For shoppers who want to plan out their Black Friday stops, check out the ads and circulars in the newspaper from local businesses or log on to and search according to retailer.

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