Earlier deals, longer hours woo Friday shoppers

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NEW YORK (AP) — Thousands of shoppers lined up at Macy's, Best Buy and other stores nationwide to buy everything from toys to tablets on Black Friday despite the economic downturn and some planned protests of the shopping holiday.

Some stores had crowds rushing in when they opened their doors at midnight — a few hours earlier than they normally do on the most anticipated shopping day of the year. A few that opened on Thanksgiving Day even were filled with shoppers.

The openings were mostly peaceful, but 10 people at a Walmart store in Los Angeles suffered minor injuries when a shopper used pepper spray during a confrontation shortly after the store opened on Thursday evening. Adding to that, there was a plan by protesters in places like Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Bose, Idaho to get shoppers to reconsider shopping at national chains on Black Friday.

Elsewhere, nearly 2,000 shoppers were in line a Best Buy in St. Petersburg, Fla., when it opened at midnight. And more than 9,000 people were outside Macy's Herald Square store when the doors opened at midnight.

"I came here for the deals," said Sidiki Traore, 59, from Roosevelt Island, N.Y. who bought three shirts for $50 at the Macy's. Earlier in the evening, he was at Toys R Us for the 9 p.m. opening and bought three toys for $106 for his four-year-old son.

A record number of shoppers could head to stores across the country to take advantage of deals of up to 70 percent during the kickoff to the holiday shopping weekend. For three days starting on Black Friday, 152 million people are expected shop, up about 10 percent from 138 million last year, according to the National Retail Federation. That's good news to retailers, many of which depend on the busy holiday shopping season for up to 40 percent of their annual revenue.

"It's the literal, physical and emotional start to a very big period for us," said Best Buy President Mike Vitelli.

To draw in crowds, merchants pulled out their bag of tricks. Some began offering to match the prices of competitors and rolling out layaway programs. Others like Best Buy, Abercrombie & Fitch, Target, Kohl's Corp. and other stores opened at midnight. The Gap and Toys R Us even opened stores on Thanksgiving.

"It's a good move to try to get shoppers to spend sooner, before they run out of money," says Burt Flickinger, III, president of retail consultancy Strategic Resource Group.

The early store openings — and Black Friday itself — caused some backlash. Some employees at stores that were planning to open early signed online protests to get retailers to change their minds. Some shoppers also signed the online protest.

Still, about 34 percent of consumers plan to shop on Black Friday, up from 31 percent last year, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.

And the deals are what's driving many shoppers into stores.

The Gap is offering discounts of 20 to 60 percent on many items. Old Navy has pea coats for $29 and jeans for $15. Toys R Us is selling a Transformers Ultimate Optimus Prime action figure for $30 off at $47.99 and a Power Wheels Barbie vehicle for $120 off at $199.99. And Best Buy has a $499 42-inch LCD HDTV for $199 and a $400 Asus Transformer 10-inch tablet computer for $249.99.

Roberto Rubi, 24, of Seminole, Fla., had been standing in line since 1 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning and hoped to score a cheap TV and laptop. He ate dinner with his family at home while three of his buddies took his place in line.

"It's hard times," says Rubi, who did get a TV. "So, any discount helps."

After showing up at Best Buy in New York on Wednesday at 3 p.m., Emmanuel Merced, 27, and his brother were the first in line when it opened. On their list was a Sharp 42-inch TV for $199, a PlayStation 3 console with games for $199.99 and wireless headphones for $30. Merced says he likes camping out for Black Friday and he figures he saved 50 percent.

"I like the experience of it," says Merced, who plans to spend $3,000 to $4,000 on gifts this season.

It remains to be seen whether shoppers' enthusiasm for holiday shopping will linger throughout the season. But analysts seem to agree that if retailers want shoppers to keep coming back, they'll have to keep discounting.

"The consumer is continuing to spend and shop and look for the bargains," says said John D. Morris, BMO Capital Markets analyst. "If it's the right product at the right price, she's shopping and buying."