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Tradition propels some Black Friday shoppers

Nicole Odone shops at Roosevelt Field Mall. (Nov.

Nicole Odone shops at Roosevelt Field Mall. (Nov. 29, 2013) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Black Friday got off to a busy -- if less frenzied -- start in malls across Long Island.

Some shoppers said the discounts weren't steep enough to bring them out in the wee hours. Others said they had already done much of their bargain-hunting on Thanksgiving day.

Shoppers casually strolled Deer Park's Tanger Outlets on Friday morning, in contrast with the hectic scenes that prevailed Thursday night.

Katie Grant, 16, of East Northport, observed thinner crowds than last year.

"Everybody did their shopping last night," said Grant, a junior at Northport High School.

If the day now dubbed Gray Thursday was for the brave and weary-eyed, Black Friday was for the well-fed and well-rested. The pace struck the right tone for Lisa Scardamaglia, 48, of Floral Park, who arrived with friend Annette Neglia, 52, of Whitestone.

Last year, Scardamaglia said: "We came a lot earlier, and I think people were tired, they were done. The spirit wasn't there."

The women recalled the drama of superstorm Sandy and the toll it took on the holiday season.

"People were hungry, lost everything," Scardamaglia said. "This year, the spirits are better."

Nicole Odone, 33, of Franklin Square, started her shopping at 4:30 a.m. Friday at Roosevelt Field mall. Although she said deals aren't as good as they used to be, she still comes out because Black Friday shopping is a tradition.

"It's not even really about the sales," said Odone, who came with her sister. "It's just fun. It's exciting."

At the South Shore Mall in Bay Shore, the parking lot was overflowing Friday morning. However, Belky Villatoro said the crowds peaked Thursday night.

"Everyone came after they finished dinner," said Villatoro, who works at Rafael's Jewelry stand in the mall concourse.

The demand for jewelry, however, has been light so far this year, Villatoro said. Most shoppers, she said, have been on the hunt for clothing bargains.

Villatoro worked until 5 a.m. Friday, then napped at home for a few hours before returning to the mall at 11 a.m. Like other bleary-eyed employees at the mall, her Black Friday fatigue was starting to show.

"I am tired," she said. "Just really tired."

Some skipped Thanksgiving dinner

Merchants have been eager to win a larger share of shoppers' limited wallets, and many began offering holiday deals weeks ago. A slower-than-expected back-to-school season, price-conscious consumers and six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas have put pressure on retailers.

Many retailers decided to launch what they said were their biggest sales events of the year Thursday -- on Thanksgiving evening or even earlier in the day -- instead of at midnight or in the early morning hours of Black Friday -- the day after Thanksgiving and the traditional start to the holiday shopping season.

"People get so pumped up for it," said Alan Yamaji, the store team leader of the new Huntington Station Target and a veteran of Black Friday events. "They see that TV they want, and they get obsessed."

Shoppers seem to be spending more freely than last year, said Josh Donahue, 28, of Melville, who owns five kiosks at the Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove.

"I couldn't believe how many people were out on Thanksgiving night," he said. "The things they do for sales. It's so much better than last year. Sandy ruined it last year."

Not everyone is a fan of the Thanksgiving day start to the shopping season, though.

"They killed Black Friday by opening up on Thursday," said Marion Napolitano, assistant manager of a kiosk selling fragranced lamps at the Smith Haven Mall. "It took a bite out of sales."

Around noon, Eddie Siddiqi, a manager at a custom t-shirt kiosk in Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, was entering the twelfth hour of his shift. He had been there since the mall opened at midnight, kept up by a combination of Red Bull and coffee, and said he found the shopper turnout disappointing and business slow compared to years past.

"It's empty, like a regular Saturday or Sunday," Siddiqi, a Valley Stream resident who had worked at the kiosk for 10 years.

Back when the mall opened at 4 a.m. on Black Friday, Siddiqi said he did better business. Now, he feels the shoppers just come for the big box stores deals and leave.

"I want to tell my boss it's 'Dead Friday,' not Black Friday."

Nearly a quarter of shoppers nationwide, or about 33 million, said they were going to hit the stores Thursday, according to a survey from the National Retail Federation. But Friday is still expected to draw the most traffic with 69.1 percent of shoppers, or 97 million, saying they plan to shop.

Last year, Long Island's holiday season was disrupted by the Oct. 29, 2012, superstorm, which gave merchants dealing in durable goods a boost but hurt others selling more discretionary gift items.

"Long Island has had pretty good success this year," said Al Ferrara, national director of retail for BDO USA, a Chicago-based consulting firm. "Its economy is in decent shape, you might see a major positive uptick" in holiday sales.

With Lisa Du, Scott Eidler, Joe Ryan and Ken Schachter

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