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Black Friday beckons buyers amid cautious optimism

Local businesses hopeful, though expert warns of ‘mixed picture’

Posted: November 25, 2009 9:11 p.m.
Updated: November 26, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Women wait outside for the Victoria's Secret store to open at the Valencia Westfield Mall Black Friday morning 2008.

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The day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday because it's traditionally the day shoppers push stores "into the black" of profitability.

But it also could be called Black Friday because, throughout Santa Clarita Valley and other places nationwide, shoppers will line up in the inky pre-dawn hours, waiting to swarm stores and hunt for holiday bargains.

"I'll probably be going to bed when you're still enjoying your turkey," said Robert Sleigh, manager of the Valencia Macy's.

Sleigh said he will be in the store at 4 a.m. Friday, gearing up for a 5 a.m. opening to what he said is the store's busiest day of the year.

With a variety of early-morning specials and coupons, he expects a busy day.

While business forecasts call for more conservative spending this holiday season, Sleigh said he hasn't seen a decrease in higher-end-brand sales.

While Macy's opens at 5 a.m., 6 a.m. is the official opening time for Westfield Valencia Town Center, mall spokeswoman Theone Miller said.

The first 500 shoppers at the mall's new Patios addition will receive a gift, she said, adding that Friday is the kickoff for Westfield's "12 Days of Shopping" promotion, featuring giveaways, food samplings, charitable giving opportunities and sales, with ongoing events every weekend until Dec. 20.

While retailers and shoppers have felt the economic crunch this year, Miller predicted: "Customers aren't going to stop spending."

Black Friday also shifts the car-buying business into high gear, said Don Fleming, co-owner of Valencia Acura and president of the Valencia Auto Dealers Association.

The weekend after Thanksgiving is when auto dealers tend to see an influx of shoppers, Fleming said.

"We certainly need that," he said.

The promotional blitz at the start of the holiday shopping season represents high stakes this year, both for retailers who 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 before Christmas.

The National Retail Federation trade group expects Black Friday crowds to be bigger this year than last, but retail consultant Walter Loeb said 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.

A more tempered tone was taken during a recent interview with Jack Kyser, executive director of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

He said retailers are aggressively managing their inventories, and shoppers shouldn't expect widespread blowout sales in the lead-up to Christmas. For that matter, Kyser said, post-holiday clearance sales will likely be much more sparse than years past.

"It's going to be a very mixed picture," he said. "Surviving retailers have to know who their customers are."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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