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Another holiday tradition

| Saturday, Nov. 29, 2003

The early birds got the best worms on a rainy Black Friday morning.

Accounts of heavy shopping activity around the region give credence to retail analysts predictions of a robust holiday shopping season.

"About 4:30 a.m. when I came in and checked the doors, there were already people in their cars waiting; I was amazed," said Jenni Andrzejewski, general manager of the new Kaufmann's department store in Homestead, which opened at 6 a.m. yesterday.

At Ross Park Mall in the North Hills, lots filled steadily throughout the morning until reaching capacity around noon. Inside, consumers draped with shopping bags scampered from store to store to pick up the traditional extra discounts for early shoppers.

Many chatted on cell phones or walkie-talkies to find friends and family in the mall.

For Roxanne Cimbala, of Saxonburg, the cell phone became a shopping tool.

Cimbala was out the door by 5 a.m., making stops in Cranberry at Staples, Best Buy, Toy "R" Us, Dick's, Target and Kohl's all before 11 a.m..

While taking a caffeine break at Starbucks, Cimbala said she had scored many good deals, including a $20 DVD player for her father-in-law.

Cimbala called home several times throughout the morning to ask her husband to check online to see if she was getting the best price.

"I'm a deal shopper," said Cimbala, 33. "That's why I'm out here today. Everybody thinks I'm nuts, but I love it; I live for this."

For some, day-after-Thanksgiving shopping is as much a family tradition as the family meal.

As she was waiting for her father somewhere back in the line that wrapped around the KB Toy and Hobby Shop at the Monroeville Mall, Lisa Kline, 41, formerly of Turtle Creek, now living in Richmond, Va., noted that the store had already sold out of a couple of items she had on her list, namely Hot Wheels T-Wrecks, the car-spitting dinosaur.

"They said they had 30 of them in stock this morning, and they were all sold out," Kline said, noting that she had to opt for a more expensive DVD player at Radio Shack because of another sellout.

Kline plans to spend about the same amount as she did last year, although her strategy remains "go for sales," meaning that while she frequents discount chains such as Target, her next stop was Lazarus at the mall.

She remains confident in the economy, but even if that wasn't the case, it wouldn't interfere with what has become a family tradition.

"I've been shopping with my Dad since I was 3 years old," Kline said.

So many bargain hunters showed up at the North Versailles Wal-Mart that police officers from four departments were called to untangle a parking lot traffic jam. North Versailles police Sgt. Steve Latsko said police "shut down" the lot after shoppers began lining up at 5 a.m., an hour before the store's opening. Latsko said two shoppers were transported by ambulance to UPMC Braddock. One passed out, and the other apparently was accidentally hit by a DVD, Latsko said.

Bargains don't necessarily have to be for Christmas giving, according to Squirrel Hill residents Luanne Krebs and her daughter, Nicole Farine, who were out shopping for clothes for Nicole.

Before Kaufmann's, Krebs and Farine started their day by venturing to the Wal-Mart store near Century III Mall in West Mifflin.

"We were there at 5 a.m., and it was crazy," Krebs said. "They were fighting over $29 DVD players."

Gayle Volz, of Richland, was among the first to arrive at Ross Park Mall. Once inside, Volz dedicated her time to buying clothes for her husband, as well as a few items for herself, including a pair of Liz Claiborne pants for $3.90.

Normally, Volz doesn't bother with the Black Friday sales, but this year decided to join the crowds.

"The only reason is that I'm better organized this year," said Volz, 41. "I had a plan."

Patty Trappen, 38, of Penn Hills, has been doing most of her Christmas shopping on the Internet.

But that didn't stop her from visiting Monroeville Mall with relatives from Erie.

"I'd say I'm actually spending more, because it's so easy shopping on the Internet," she said.

With most of the shopping done, riding Santa's train was the top priority for her children, Tyler, 4, and Nicole, 1.

Former Forest Hills resident Jack Dibler, 52, who now lives in Columbia, Md., took heart in the bustling of Monroeville Mall.

"When you look around and see how many people are shopping, that's a confidence builder in itself. People don't seem to be holding back."

Peering into a jewelry store window at South Hills Village, Brad Singh, 30, of Upper St. Clair, said he had come to the mall to find something to put a "tear in my girlfriend's eye."

"I think more so this year than last year, I feel more confident buying something like this," he said, pointing to a diamond necklace.

Tribune-Review reporters Ron DaParma, Ashley Gerwig, Ellen James, Tom Jewell and Susan Schmeichel contributed to this report.

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