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Shoppers search for deals on Black Friday

Michelle Tyndall said Black Friday shopping is a tradition for her family. They got in line at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Yankee Candle store at Carolina Premium Outlets.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Stores across the country prepared Thursday for the official start of the holiday shopping period – Black Friday.

For the first time, Toys R Us stores across the country will open at midnight, offering discounted items. Additional sales at the chain start at 5 a.m. Friday.

Some stores at the Carolina Premium Outlets in Smithfield opened at 10 p.m. Thursday.

Michelle Tyndall said Black Friday shopping is a tradition for her family. They got in line at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Yankee Candle store at Carolina Premium Outlets.

After Yankee Candle, Tyndall said her family planned to go to stop at other outlet stores.

About two dozen people were lined up outside of the Best Buy store off of Capital Boulevard in Raleigh at 8 p.m. Thursday. Doors will open there at 5 a.m.

Toys R Us' Babies R Us stores will also open at 5 a.m. with deals on jumbo packs of diapers and baby food. Spokeswoman Kathleen Waugh expects shoppers will buy these staples not just for themselves but also as practical gifts.

Wal-Mart's Black Friday promotions include $7 fleece jackets and $3 children's pajamas alongside 50-inch Sanyo plasma HDTVs for $598.

Sherlyn and Holly Lucas are veterans at Black Friday shopping. They drove around shopping centers near Smithfield Thursday evening hours to plan their shopping list.

"You can sometimes look in the stores," Holly Lucas said.

Holly Lucas said she plans to spend the same amount of money as previous years.

The promotional blitz at the start of the holiday shopping season has high stakes this year both for retailers that have suffered through a year of sales declines and for the economy, which could use a lift from consumer spending. Thanksgiving also falls fairly late this year, meaning fewer shopping days.

The National Retail Federation trade group expects Black Friday crowds to be bigger this year, but retail consultant Walter Loeb says spending for the weekend will be at best unchanged from last year.

People are still "very nervous about the future," said Tracy Mullin, president of the federation. "But I think the good news is that stores get this new consumer, and the products are much less showy."

Stores had reason for optimism when shoppers came back to life a bit in September and October, finally reversing more than a year of sales declines. On Wednesday, the government said October consumer spending was up 0.7 percent, better than expected.

Wal-Mart, other stores amp up crowd-control measures

One year after a guard was trampled to death during the Black Friday rush at a Wal-Mart store in Valley Stream, N.Y., the national retailer has inspired voluntary federal guidelines outlining what other retailers should do to avoid the same result.

Joe LaRocca, senior asset protection adviser for the National Retail Federation, said the trade group worked with retailers to come up with its own guidelines for managing crowds during special events, including the day after Thanksgiving.

"Following the incident last year, retailers took another look at their crowd control and major event guidelines," he said. "Many retailers already had these guidelines; some enhanced what they had."

Best Buy ran rehearsals for Black Friday weekend, practicing lining customers up, placing products in the store, checking out overall flow and how the event may flow within the store.

Other companies have worked closely with mall operators on where to form lines and how they might better communicate with customers. They have been examining staffing plans and hiring extra security.

Wal-Mart signed off in May on an agreement with local prosecutors that required it to overhaul security for Black Friday sales in its 92 New York locations, but it recently said it is employing its new strategy nationwide.

The settlement also required Wal-Mart to consult with experts to develop safety plans for each store. Crowd-management staff will be deployed, and maps will show customers where the hot sale items are.

Wal-Mart will also erect barriers to manage traffic flow and distribute wristbands to customers on items with limited inventory. Security monitors will help ensure procedures are being followed, officials said.


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