By Nathan Duke, Howard Koplowitz and Jeremy Walsh
Queens shopping strips were busy but not overwhelmed on Black Friday as some borough shoppers said the struggling economy prevented them from spending much on the official opening of the holiday sales season, while others said they were spurred on by deep markdowns to purchase more.
Shopping centers across the borough drew medium to large crowds of customers throughout the day. Queens customers primarily sought out deals on clothing and electronics.
“People will shop no matter what sales are,” Bayside resident Dawn Soltan said as she strolled around the Bay Terrace Shopping Center. “It’s the holidays.”
There were high expectations for this year’s Black Friday, one of the heaviest shopping days of the year and often viewed as the most critical for many retailers, to help boost the economy with the city jobless rate hovering at 7.2 percent. But preliminary nationwide data from ShopperTrak RCT Corp. showed that sales were only up 0.5 percent over last year.
According to the National Retail Federation, an estimated 195 million shoppers visited stores nationwide Friday, which is 23 million more shoppers than in 2008. But the average spending dropped from $372.57 last year to $343.31 per person this year. Total spending reached $41.2 billion.
In addition, an estimated 96 million Americans took part in Cyber Monday, which was up from 85 million last year, while 87 percent of retailers polled had planned to offer sales for that day, the trade group found. The day enables for retailers to increase their online sales on the Monday following Black Friday.
Store workers throughout the borough said they were consistently busy throughout Black Friday, if not flooded with customers. Some managers said they believed many shoppers would wait until the last minute this year to do their holiday shopping.
“I think the customer is still scared,” said Gail Barnes, manager of Perfumania at Elmhurst’s Queens Center Mall. “But they’re going to come around. It’s just the beginning. People like to wait for that frantic time. They’re wanting to be holding those bags, jostling against one another. The last week and a half [before Christmas] is going to be nuts.”
Gabriel Masciangelo, store manager at P.C. Richard & Son on College Point’s 20th Avenue shopping strip, said his store was offering markdowns ofbetween 30 percent and 40 percent. The crowded store sold numerous televisions, digital cameras and computers on Black Friday, he said.
“We don’t have hourly specials like our competitors,” he said. “Where other companies have seen declines in this economy, we’ve seen opportunity. We’re opening new showrooms.”
But many Queens shoppers said they were curbing how much they plan to spend this year.
“The economy plays a part in it,” said Jamaica resident Don West, who stood in line with a large bag filled with Fisher-Price toys at the Best Buy at Green Acres Mall right over the border from Queens. “I’m here to save money. We’re waiting for the deals on Blu-Ray [discs].”
The Queens Best Buy had slashed its Blu-Ray prices from $24.99 to $9.99.
A Cambria Heights woman who declined to give her name waited for 45 minutes on line at Green Acres Mall to get into Best Buy.
“Right now the economy’s too bad,” she said. “Times are too tough to buy for anyone. I didn’t get a raise this year.”
Long Island City resident Debbie Ali said she was purchasing shoes for herself and a coat for her son at the Queens Center Mall. She said this year’s markdowns would determine how much she would spend.
“It depends on what is the bargain,” she said. “I can’t just pick up stuff I don’t really need. But there is temptation.”
Sherri Brown, manager of Bay Terrace’s Bath & Body Works, said more customers were using coupons this year and coming into her store with lists of essentials.
“People are definitely being more practical,” she said. “I checked our number of sales and they are the same as last year. But people are only buying things that are on sale. They are shopping a lot smarter.”
At Glendale’s Shops at Atlas Park, which is in the midst of a transition from upscale shopping to moderately priced retail, the pace was relatively quiet on the day of shopping mania.
Jake Gerson, manager of Atlas Park’s home goods store The Fair, assessed the day’s customer turnout as “not bad.” But he said the center had never really attracted large crowds on Black Friday.
“It’s always sort of been the case,” he said.
Charlie Batyr of Floral Park said he got a half-price deal on a new pair of Florsheim shoes at Atlas Park. He believed the center had the potential to draw larger crowds.
“I think they built a beautiful place and they still need to find a way to get people in here,” he said. “It’s almost like you’re in Long Island.”
Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.