Boro sees mixed turnout on Black Friday

Yanil Rodriguez, a cashier at M. Alpine Sports in Elmhurst, works during the Black Friday rush. The store’s manager, Giselle Rodriguez, of Astoria, said many customers did not purchase the store’s more expensive goods. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Anna Gustafson

Queens residents flocked to shopping centers throughout the borough Friday, some waking as early as 3 a.m. to take advantage of steep Black Friday sales despite a tanking national economy that has left many Americans tightening the grip on their wallets.

But while some stores in Queens were experiencing enough human traffic to satisfy managers concerned about the impact of the recession on sales, the Shops at Atlas Park in Glendale and Jamaica Avenue were reminiscent of ghost towns.

Queens Center Mall in Elmhurst was already bustling with shoppers at 4 a.m., and Bay Terrace in Bayside and the Lake Success Shopping Center on the border of Floral Park were teeming with residents anxious to purchase holiday gifts on sale. Store managers at Queens Place, down the street from the mall, said shoppers were champing at the bit to purchase everything from the televisions to Wiis that were significantly less thanks to Black Friday discounts.

Rick Sanichara, manager of the Target at Queens Place, a shopping center at 56th Avenue and Queens Boulevard, said the store had completely sold out of more than 500 Westinghouse LCD televisions, on sale for $299 — $200 less than the regular retail price, three hours after it opened at 6 a.m.

“We’re completely out of the DVD players we had for $70, we’re sold out of Guitar Hero and we’re selling tons of Wiis and PS3s,” Sanichara said.

Chris Levenberg, Gamestop’s district manager for western Long Island, anticipated its top seller to be Wii Fit for the Nintendo Wiii.

He said the Wii system has appeal to older people, which helps boost sales despite a downturn in the economy.

“We’re seeing video games as a more emerging platform for older people,” he said. “Now they’re picking up stuff like the Wii Fit. You wouldn’t have seen people in their 60s playing video games 10 years ago.”

Although Black Friday sales rose about 3 percent nationwide, some shopping spots in Queens failed to draw crowds.

In Glendale, the Shops at Atlas Park, which has a number of high−end stores, was practically deserted at 9:30 a.m. Friday despite numerous shops boasting signs advertising special sales starting as early as 6 a.m.

Jamaica Avenue, the busiest commercial strip in southeast Queens, was also empty in the early morning hours of what is historically one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Dozens of the strips’ most popular shops, like Cookies clothing store and the Gertz Plaza Mall, did not set up shop before their usual 10 a.m. opening time.

Residents who woke early said they were frustrated to encounter the closed doors. Southeast Queens has been hard hit by the subprime mortgage crisis.

Lamar Mitchell, a 19−year−old cook from Central Islip, L.I., said he had come to Jamaica Avenue with his sister, Latoya, and some friends to shop, but left for Green Acres Mall after they found no open stores.

“It’s the recession, everyone’s broke,” Mitchell said. “It’s a depression, everyone’s worried about things.”

Store managers had better luck at Queens Center Mall, where shoppers had already lined up to enter the mall when it opened at 4 a.m., six hours earlier than usual.

“It’s busier than usual and busier than last year, which is a little weird since the economy is bad,” said Nicole Rodriguez, manager of Afaze, a clothing and accessories shop in the mall.

While people were still buying plenty of Afaze’s big sellers — boots, handbags and scarves — assistant manager Jennifer Resto said she could still notice the impact of a rough economy on shoppers this year.

“A lot of people are paying with cash,” Resto said. “They don’t want to use credit.”

Though NPD Group, a retail market research organization, expects 45− to 54−year−olds to spend more than $800 this Christmas season, some Queens residents in that age bracket said they plan to shell out less than that and cut outlays on presents this year.

“I do not have a full−time job anymore, so things are very hard,” said Flushing resident Mariela Rivera, who had worked as a secretary before being laid off earlier this year. “Everyone is saying not to use your credit card, but what can I do? I have no cash.”

At the Queens Center Mall Woodside resident Jasmine Bravo could not find deep discounts.

“I’ve never gone shopping on Black Friday before, but I thought I’d give it a shot this year,” she said. “But there were very few good deals. They like to lure people in with all the talk of Black Friday, but when you actually get to the store, there’s not a lot of deals.”

According to the Manhattan−based National Retail Federation, 25 million more shoppers came out this year than last and spent about $372 on average last weekend, up 7.2 percent over last year’s $347. While customers spent more, other retail analysts said stores had to offer such significant bargains that some shops may not make it out of the red this holiday season.

“Things have been pretty bad compared to years past,” Cristine Bruno, manager of Lazar’s Chocolate in Bayside’s Bay Terrace, said Friday. “People are being more cautious with their money. But things were busier today at least. Usually things for us are quiet on Black Friday, but we got 40 to 50 people.”

Jeremy Walsh, Ivan Pereira and Howard Koplowitz contributed to this article.

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