Thanksgiving shoppers jump-start Black Friday

Hong Chao, of Flushing, gets excited about somthing

Hong Chao, of Flushing, gets excited about somthing in the flyer while waiting on line at the Best Buy in Westbury. (Nov. 22, 2012) (Credit: Steve Pfost)

The Walmart in Massapequa opened at 7 a.m. on Thanksgiving but didn't attract a crowd until 8 p.m. when Black Friday markdowns began.

By 8:10, the two-story store had filled to capacity and a line had formed outside.

Lisa Glasser of Smithtown arrived just before the crowd engulfed the store. She said the retailer's decision to move up the start of special deals by two hours ended her hiatus from Black Friday shopping in recent years.

"I'm stopping here for a bit and going back to eat dessert," she said.

Long Island retailers expected earlier store openings or markdowns like those that attracted Glasser, coupled with superstorm Sandy, to draw crowds on Thanksgiving night and Black Friday this year.

Starting the traditional rush that marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season earlier in the night was expected to bring out more customers who couldn't be bothered to drag themselves out for midnight store openings, whatever the bargains, retail experts said.

And with so many homes damaged and bank accounts drained by Sandy, the need to replace household necessities at bargain prices was also expected to get people out for holiday kickoff sales, despite full stomachs or the competition from televised football.

Shoppers packed the Roosevelt Field mall in Garden City, filling many of the parking spots by 2 a.m.

Many of the shoppers roaming the mall said they came to see what all the hype was about and also find a deal for themselves.

"We weren't doing anything tonight," said Marc Remache of Rego Park, who came with friends and family from Valley Stream. "Seeing that there are good sales, I will probably buy more than what I would normally buy."

By 3 a.m. tired shoppers, including a number of young children, dozed in corners or on chairs. Many teens also cruised the halls socializing. One store created a club vibe, featuring a DJ and pulsing music.

The Target in Levittown opened at 9 p.m., and the store was soon crowded. Several makeshift checkout counters for customers with 10 or fewer items were erected throughout the store.

The longest line was to get a number to buy a flat-screen TV. But Vicky Haug, 49, of Levittown, filled her shopping cart with pillows, sheets and kitchenware.

"It was crowded, but we got in very fast, out very fast," she said. "It was very organized."

Haug said she normally would not have ventured out for Black Friday shopping because she had to work Friday. But Target opening at 9 p.m. allowed her to shop.

Ralph Rodriguez, 42, of Farmingdale, came to the Levittown Best Buy at 3 p.m. Wednesday with his father-in-law. By the time the doors opened at midnight Thursday, Rodriguez had waited on line 33 hours to buy a Toshiba 50-inch LED flat-screen TV for $399 and a Toshiba 40-inch for $179.

"This is the first time we've gone all out," he said, adding that he enjoyed the experience because he got to eat a turkey meal in line with boxed wine and made new friends.

As midnight approached, the long line outside began to stir and Suffolk County police blocked off the entrance to the parking lot closest to the store. Some near the start of the line started jumping up and down in excitement. A scream of "40 seconds!" echoed from the crowd. When the doors finally opened, everyone cheered as employees opened the doors and reminded shoppers "Don't push."

Walmart has opened early on Thanksgiving in recent years but held back the Black Friday bargains until the evening.

Outside the Massapequa store, a fence directed the line of shoppers inside while employees stood by in yellow vests. One worker with a megaphone announced periodically which deal items had been sold out. Inside, lines of shoppers snaked around aisles as they waited for the clock to strike 8. The items that attracted the longest lines included flat-screen TVs and iPads.

Rich Kaplan, 42, of North Babylon, and Julie Saccente, 33, of Massapequa Park, are step-siblings who call themselves "professional Black Friday shoppers." They have been shopping Black Friday for five years and always devise a "battle plan" beforehand.

This year the pair made it out of Walmart by 8:05 with a cart full of kitchenware.

"I've never seen Black Friday run this smoothly," Kaplan said.

The efforts by Walmart and other retailers to better organize the holiday shopping experience is the result of a 2008 Black Friday predawn stampede at the Walmart in Valley Stream in which a temporary worker was killed by asphyxia and shoppers were injured. After the death of Jdimytai Damour, 34, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Wal-Mart Stores Inc. $7,000 -- the maximum allowed.

With Bill Bleyer

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