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Black Friday madness begins

| Friday, Nov. 24, 2006

GROVE CITY -- Dena Degidio plans to tell her child about the time Mommy waited in line at midnight while four months pregnant, to get in on holiday shopping deals at Grove City's Old Navy outlet.

"We got here at 10 p.m.," Degidio said last night. "We waited in the car for awhile, but then we saw the parking lot filling up, and we decided to get in line. It's been crazy."

Degidio was one of the thousands of bargain-hunters who attended the first midnight opening at the Prime Outlets in Grove City for Black Friday -- traditionally the day when retailers' balance sheets go "into the black," meaning they're making profits.

A few Prime Outlets in other parts of the country tried midnight openings last year, said Grove City spokeswoman Michele Czerwinski. It was successful enough to prompt management to try midnight openings at its top 12 locations, Grove City among them. A total of 130 stores participated.

"It's a way to give shoppers more opportunity to find bargains," Czerwinski said. "These are really the best prices of the year."

The turnout was bigger than anyone planned. State police reported at the height of the frenzy, traffic backed up 10 miles on Interstate 79 North, six miles from the north and even caused a four-mile backup on I-80 East.

"I've been here six years, and I've never seen it like this," Czerwinski said this morning.

The mall parking lot has 3,048 spaces, she said, which were almost completely filled before most of the stores opened.

By 3 a.m., more than 9,000 cars had been clocked, general manager Carmen DeRose said.

Grove City police had a single cruiser parked on Route 208 at the entrance to the mall, but it didn't seem to make much difference. People were getting dropped off on I-79 and walking up to a mile to the outlet mall. Several people gave up altogether and used emergency turnaround ramps to get back on to almost-empty I-79 South.

Lines formed by 10 p.m. at stores offering discounts of 40 percent to 60 percent. Old Navy outlet personnel took mercy on the crowd of nearly 100 people waiting, and opened its doors about 15 minutes early.

Czerwinski expected moms to be the biggest participants in the midnight madness. "A lot of people have to work on Friday," she said. "Moms are thrilled that they can shop, stress-free, and leave the kids and dad at home."

Kelley Skoloda, a partner at Ketchum Inc., a marketing and public relations agency, said she wouldn't be surprised if a large number of moms were among the midnight madness crowd.

"You're probably primarily talking about moms who do need to get away from the kids to do the holiday shopping," she said. "Don't forget -- Santa is attached to a lot of that."

And although the idea of shopping into the wee hours might sound bizarre, Skoloda said it's one more way for brick-and-mortar stores to compete with online retailers.

"It's just mimicking what's happening already in online retail shopping," Skoloda said. "A lot of traffic starts to peak after traditional bedtimes -- moms are going online after the kids are in bed. This is a way to try to capitalize on that phenomenon. I think it could have legs into the future."

The crowd did have its share of moms shopping together, but families-- including children in strollers -- teenagers, and many younger couples showed up, as well. Susan Denestra of Erie made the drive yesterday with her two daughters, Ellen, 22, and Lisa, 17. The three were coordinating their shopping with Nextel walkie-talkie phones. "Any purchases yet, girls?" she radioed.

"Yes, mom, you have to get over to Liz Claiborne right now," Lisa responded. "Then we have to get to Aeropostale because the line is really long."

At the Coach outlet, there were more than 50 people -- mostly women -- clamoring to get inside. Jolene Booher, of Niles, Ohio made the 45-minute drive to Grove City, even though she worked all day yesterday in her job as a psychiatric nurse.

"I ate no carbohydrates for Thanksgiving, so now I have all this energy," Booher said. "I'm supposed to be at work Friday at 3 p.m., but I told my boss I might be a little bit late. It depends what kinds of deals I can get here."

'Tis the season -- to shop

  • Spending is expected to average $791 per shopper, up 7 percent from last year, the National Retail Federation said, and total holiday spending in the United States could reach $457.4 billion.

  • Time spent buying gifts this season will average 13 hours, Consumer Reports said, and shoppers will spend another three hours wrapping their purchases -- although most men will spend less time than women.

  • "Merry Christmas" could be heard more often, with chains such as Macy's and Wal-Mart now encouraging employees to use the traditional greeting, instead of a generic one, Duquesne University marketing professor Audrey Guskey said.

  • Most people will complete much of their shopping by the second week of December. Based on history, Dec. 23 -- and not Christmas Eve -- should be the year's busiest shopping day, MasterCard said.

  • Electronic items rank at or near the top in most forecasts of top-sellers during this longer-than-usual, 31-day gift buying period that ends with Christmas on a Monday.

  • Game systems led the category in a recent Consumer Reports survey as the most-wanted gifts, with 21 percent.

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