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Local Retailers Buoyed By 'Shop Til You Drop' Crowds

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"Christmas Creep" gains traction despite some protests

By Chris Levister

It's that time of year when shoppers like Ashton Murray will do just about anything to get a deal on holiday priced merchandise like the $399 flat screen TV he snagged at a Riverside electronics store. "I waited in line 5 hours to get this TV," he said. "Was it worth it? Hell yea," said Murray.

Shoppers turned out in droves at Inland Empire malls and big box stores for the biggest holiday shopping weekend of the season - Black Friday. The result: Nationally more than $59 billion in estimated sales from Thursday through Sunday, according to a BIGInsight survey conducted for the National Retail Federation (NRF).

And all signs pointed to a blockbuster Cyber Monday, as more customers turned to their computers or mobile devices to shop. In fact, the average person spent almost 41% of their total spending for the weekend online, the BIGInsight survey shows.

"Like pumpkin pie and football, Thanksgiving Day shopping is quickly becoming a holiday tradition for millions of Americans," said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay.

Inland retailers reported no serious violence or fighting. Some shoppers duked it out in Texas, Kentucky, Florida, Sacramento and other parts of the country.

According to media outlets around the U.S. Black Friday fights and violence were widespread on November 23, 2012. In Tallahassee, Florida two pe

ople were shot in a Walmart parking lot after getting into a verbal fight over a parking spot. Both men were injured but will recover, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Meanwhile, in Texas, two Sears Black Friday shoppers were caught fighting as well. After one man began punching a second man pulled out a gun, prompting a panicked stampede that trampled and injured a third shopper, the LA Times reported.

"It was a little chaotic. People were exi t ing the store," local police officer Matthew Porter told ABC. "Fortunately for us, officers responded quickly and were able to ease the commotion."

Not everyone is ringing in the early holiday cheer. Shoppers have been voicing their dissent against the so-called retail Christmas creep in general, and Thanksgiving Day shopping specifically in the past few years.

Retail giant J.C. Penny, the department store chain that's struggled to revamp its brand over the past year, actually opened on Black Friday -- at 6 a.m. instead of its usual 4.

For shoppers who resent Christmas creep, which they say places unbridled commercialism ahead of a family and sacred holiday, the move is good. Some shoppers like Lisa Gipson of Devore are not amused by the shopping frenzy.

"It's consumerism at it's worst. Spend, spend, spending leads to debt, debt, debt," she complained.

"Holiday-themed media ads, junk mail and store decorations in October, come on," said Gipson.

"Whatever your political persuasion, you’ve probably already had it up to here with the election campaign ads that flooded the airwaves," said a Tyler Galleria shopper named Tex who complained about holiday television and online ads.

"It 's all about the money. I think every retailer is looking for a silver lining around every storm cloud," he said.

Others like Ruby Jenkins don't like the freeway and local street congestion around retail centers.

"Holiday tailgating outside my window at 1:00 a.m. It's just plain nonsense," said Jenkins.

Toys R Us, Wal-Mart and Sears got a head start on the big shopping weekend by opening at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. That's even earlier than last year, when the toy retailer kicked things off at 9 p.m. Thursday and Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, opened at 10 p.m. Sears opened Friday at 4 a.m. last year.

"By opening even earlier, the retailers have been able to attract a broader spectrum of consumers to participate in Black Friday -- not everyone is willing to wake up at 4 a.m. ," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at the NPD Group.

"They definitely got a lot more business early and upfront."

Some shoppers who showed up at stores Thursday night still ended up making purchases online.

Michelle Powers stood in line at Best Buy in San Bernardino for more than 3 hours. Still she was too far back in the line to receive a voucher for the 50-inch Toshiba TV she wanted, selling for $399.

She left and ended up buying a 40- inch Samsung TV on Amazon for $427.

"When one door doesn't open," she said, another one does. "I prefer shopping in my slippers and 'jammies' anyway," she said Ultimately, the competition between online and bricks-andmortar stores means Black Friday and Cyber Monday are becoming one and the same, says Shay.

“What we’re going to see is that the two become further and further indistinguishable from one another,” he says.

“Everyone is playing everywhere now. Worries about the economy and fiscal austerity be damned. On Black Friday, consumers were ready to shop till they dropped."

At 10:30 Thursday night, the parking lot at the Galleria at Tyler was sea of shoppers many of them camped out in tents.

Meanwhile, store managers at Inland Center Mall in San Bernardino, were pleased with the strong traffic, which caused a backup on the 91 freeway and Interstate 215. Several shopping outlets had to use off-duty police officers and security to control traffic outside of stores.

"Some stores including Victoria Secret in Inland Center had to close their store entrances temporarily as they had reached capacity with hundreds of shoppers waiting to enter the stores," said Riverside marketing analyst Leena Story.

Black Friday traditionally marks the start of the holiday shopping season. Stores consider it to be the most important time of the year because they can make up to 40% of their annual sales in the November-December period.

For the entire holiday season, analysts expect sales to rise between 1% and 2%.

NRF, on the other hand, is more optimistic. It estimates that holiday sales will increase by 4.1%.

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