Bargain-hunters invaded stores across Long Island and elsewhere on Black Friday, turning out in bigger numbers than last year, retailers said. But experts said it's too early to tell if the shopping season that begins officially with America's much-hyped national orgy of conspicuous consumption will be the financial success that retailers so desperately need in a struggling economy.
At Best Buy and Target in Westbury, at the Apple Store in Roosevelt Field, at Tanger outlets in Deer Park and Riverhead and elsewhere on the Island, shoppers were lined up for "door buster" discounts when most stores opened late Thursday evening or early Friday morning.
At Roosevelt Field, 20-year-old Anisha Rashid of Jackson Heights, Queens was shopping at 4 a.m. with seven friends and family members. They had already been to Target and purchased televisions and other electronics -- but had been too late for sale items they sought at Walmart. "Budget-wise, I feel like there should be no budget because everything is on sale," Rashid said.
But other shoppers said they were cutting back because of money worries.
Sitting in massage chairs at Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove Friday afternoon, cousins Richard and Lisa Castillo of Centereach, who work in freight forwarding at Kennedy Airport, said they're worried about job cuts and have cut back on holiday gifts for the past two years.
"I'd buy for the teachers and the neighbors, the mailman, the garbage man, everybody," said Lisa Castillo, 50. "It stopped. I just can't do it. Life's changed. It's gotten too hectic and it's gotten too expensive."
This year, nobody took the term "door buster" literally; police reported no serious incidents at any local stores. About 60 supporters of the Occupy Black Friday movement protested what they called "corporate control of the holidays" Friday outside Smith Haven Mall.
The National Retail Federation forecast that as many as 152 million people would hit the stores during the three-day weekend that began Friday, up 10 percent from last year.
At Tanger in Riverhead, general manager and marketing director Janine Nebons said there were about 60,000 shoppers in the complex by 1 a.m., three hours after the opening and more than last year's peak crowd. "I would say this increase in traffic has produced better than double digit gains in sales," she said.
At Target in Westbury, senior merchant Alan Yamaji said shoppers snapped up hundreds of 46-inch Westinghouse TVs at $298, the store's entire stock. "The turnout this year was actually better than last year," he said.
But it's too soon to tell whether what is traditionally the busiest day of the year in foot traffic and dollar sales signals a good holiday shopping season. And it won't be clear until companies report financials for this quarter whether the extended hours and deep discounts helped or hurt the number that counts the most: profits.
"The increase in consumers is a good sign early, but it doesn't necessarily mean the overall holiday is going to fare much better than last year," said Marshal Cohen, an analyst at Port Washington, New York-based NPD Group. Black Friday accounts for only about 10 percent of holiday sales.
Veteran retail analyst Howard Davidowitz, chairman of Howard Davidowitz & Associates Inc. of Manhattan, expects flat sales. He cites high unemployment -- 6.6 percent on Long Island -- the slump in home values, slow or no growth in personal incomes and heavy consumer debt. "And," he adds, "the consumer is petrified that things are going to get worse."
Still, many shoppers threw caution to the wind as they joined the Black Friday fray.
"We don't know what we want to buy," said Isabel Huang, 24, of Flushing, Queens, who arrived at Roosevelt Field at 1:30 a.m. with her sister, Charlene. "We just want to buy something."
Added Charlene Huang, "At night you go out clubbing, why not shopping?"
With Bloomberg News