Earlier deals, longer hours woo Friday shoppers

NEW YORK (AP) - Thousands of shoppers lined up at Macy's, Best Buy and other stores nationwide to buy everything from toys to tablets on Black Friday despite the economic downturn and some planned protests of the shopping holiday.

Some stores had crowds rushing in when they opened their doors at midnight - a few hours earlier than they normally do on the most anticipated shopping day of the year. A few that opened on Thanksgiving Day even were filled with shoppers.

The openings were mostly peaceful, but 10 people at a Walmart store in Los Angeles suffered minor injuries when a shopper used pepper spray during a confrontation shortly after the store opened on Thursday evening. Adding to that, there was a plan by protesters in places like Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Boise, Idaho to get shoppers to reconsider shopping at national chains on Black Friday.

Elsewhere, nearly 2,000 shoppers were in line a Best Buy in St. Petersburg, Fla., when it opened at midnight. And more than 9,000 people were outside Macy's Herald Square store when the doors opened at midnight.

"I came here for the deals," said Sidiki Traore, 59, from Roosevelt Island, N.Y. who bought three shirts for $50 at the Macy's. Earlier in the evening, he was at Toys R Us for the 9 p.m. opening and bought three toys for $106 for his four-year-old son.

A record number of shoppers could head to stores across the country to take advantage of deals of up to 70 percent during the kickoff to the holiday shopping weekend. For three days starting on Black Friday, 152 million people are expected shop, up about 10 percent from 138 million last year, according to the National Retail Federation. That's good news to retailers, many of which depend on the busy holiday shopping season for up to 40 percent of their annual revenue.

"It's the literal, physical and emotional start to a very big period for us," said Best Buy President Mike Vitelli.

To draw in crowds, merchants pulled out their bag of tricks. Some began offering to match the prices of competitors and rolling out layaway programs. Others like Best Buy, Abercrombie & Fitch, Target, Kohl's Corp. and other stores opened at midnight. The Gap and Toys R Us even opened stores on Thanksgiving.

"It's a good move to try to get shoppers to spend sooner, before they run out of money," says Burt Flickinger, III, president of retail consultancy Strategic Resource Group.

The early store openings - and Black Friday itself - caused some backlash. Some employees at stores that were planning to open early signed online protests to get retailers to change their minds. Some shoppers also signed the online protest.

Still, about 34 percent of consumers plan to shop on Black Friday, up from 31 percent last year, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.