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Black Friday brings hopes for bargains and profits

Whether you call it tradition or call it crazy, shoppers were out well before dawn today, hunting for a bargain all over the Triangle and beyond.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Whether you call it tradition or call it crazy, shoppers were out well before dawn Friday, hunting for a bargain all over the Triangle and beyond.

That’s because with the turkey leftovers in the refrigerator, attention has turned to post-holiday sales on Black Friday, the day retailers hope shoppers will put business into the black for the year.

The weather seemed to be on their side, with variable cloudiness and high temperatures in the 60s forecast for the area.

Ronnie Edwards was among the shoppers at the Carolina Premium Outlets mall in Smithfield, where shopping began at midnight.

“There’s traffic parked on the street, on the highway, behind buildings, on the curb – everywhere. It's crazy,” Edwards said.

Hundreds flocked to the outlets for their “midnight madness” sale. Shoppers formed lines in Garner, and they waited in Fayetteville, too. A crowd came to the Streets at Southpoint in Durham, looking for bargains.

In a tragic angle to the day, police in Nassau County, N.Y., on Long Island, said a Wal-Mart worker has died after being trampled by a throng of unruly shoppers shortly after the Long Island store opened Friday.

A police statement said a throng of shoppers "physically broke down the doors, knocking him to the ground." Police also say a 28-year-old pregnant woman was taken to a hospital for observation.

Carrie Hamm spent her entire Thanksgiving waiting for a Best Buy in Fayetteville to open, arriving at 6:30 a.m. Thursday.

“I'm a single mom with three teenagers. This is the best way to get things that they want at a reasonable price,” Hamm explained.

Whether Black Friday turns out to be more gray than black remained to be seen. Industry-watchers reported that 76 percent of people said they expected to spend less on the holidays.

Some shoppers said they plan to spend 20 to 25 percent less than last year.

To counter cautious consumers, retailers were pulling out all the stops. Those that traditionally open early opened even earlier.

On Thursday night, hundreds of shoppers took advantage of deals on items, including artificial Christmas trees, at Michael's craft store at the White Oak Shopping Center in Garner. The company held a three-hour sale at its locations across the country.

Many stores have slashed prices, hoping to convince window shoppers to pull out that wallet. Major department stores and mall-based chains have cut prices up to 70 percent.

 Black Friday – which falls on the day after Thanksgiving and officially starts the holiday shopping period – received its name because it historically was the day when a surge of shoppers helped stores break into profitability for the full year. But this year, with rampant promotions of up to 70 percent throughout the month amid a deteriorating economy, the power of this landmark day for the retail industry could be fading.

Still, while it isn't a predictor of holiday season sales, the day after Thanksgiving is an important barometer of people's willingness to spend for the rest of the season. And particularly this year, analysts will be dissecting how the economy is shaping shoppers' buying habits, including whether they will spring for big ticket items or focus on small purchases like gloves and hats.

Last year, the Thanksgiving shopping weekend of Friday through Sunday accounted for about 10 percent of overall holiday sales, according to ShopperTrak RCT Corp.

The group hasn't released estimates for Black Friday sales this year, but experts believe it will remain one of the season's biggest selling days, even as shoppers remain deliberate in their spending.