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A Wild Black Friday In N.Y.

11/26/2007 01:36:00 AM

Here is a quick snapshot of what transpired on Black Friday in N.Y. City. (And here are some actual snapshots.)

On Black Friday, consumers were still waiting in line outside a Long Island City Best Buy at 3 p.m.; Circuit City’s new “The City” format store on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue was packed with consumers as was the established Best Buy next door; and a Costco store manager in Queens, N.Y., reported that it sold “20 58-inch HDTVs in eight minutes” — those were just some of the highlights I saw or heard about on Black Friday 2007.

Traditionally, our resident retail expert, senior editor Alan Wolf, and I take a break from our four-day holiday weekend to visit stores on Black Friday. Alan takes the early shift in New Jersey with the pre-dawn crowd. I usually take a look at the aftermath, in New York City in late morning and afternoon.

This was the busiest Black Friday that I have seen in years. While this is anecdotal, it confirmed what many of us heard in the consumer media over the Thanksgiving weekend.

I started my trek by driving from my home in Brooklyn over to Circuit City’s The City store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, right next door to a two-year old Best Buy. The City, which opened earlier this month and will have its official opening on Dec. 6, was packed.

By the end of the chain’s fiscal year in February, Circuit City will probably have 65 new stores, depending upon construction and real estate. From 17 to 19 will be relocated Circuit City stores, 43 to 45 will be new locations and around 20 of these new The City stores will open.

The format emphasizes “grab and go” sales and the opportunity to pick up online purchases at this location, so games, portable electronics, photo/camcorder areas were emphasized on the first floor, while there were displays for HDTV, home theater, home audio and computers on the second. Enas Rayner, district manager for Circuit City, said the store opened at 5 a.m. and that digital cameras, iPod and navigation items were in high demand, as well as 42-inch, 46-inch and 50-inch HDTVs.

Among the six-hour specials were the $799 Samsung 50-inch DLP, $99.99 Mio portable navigation device, $299 Compaq 1GB Presario laptop, a $99.99 7.2-megapixel Sony digital camera, while Apple’s 4GB iPod Nano went one-on-one with Microsoft’s 4GB Zune for the same price — $149 each.

I then visited the Best Buy next door and by dumb luck met Armando Lopez, general manager of the store, who was talking with one of his associates and a customer about GPS systems. He said GPS was very popular on Black Friday, along with laptops, PCs and HDTV. This location was busier on Black Friday than last year, according to Lopez.

The ground floor for this Best Buy was the main floor with other category areas one floor down. Unlike its neighbor, this store looked and had the sales area of a conventional Best Buy location (but more on Best Buy later).

The Costco location in Long Island City, Queens, which is a mile or so away from the 59th Street Bridge to Manhattan, attracts customers from both boroughs of New York and northern Brooklyn.

Unlike Best Buy or Circuit City, Costco did not open at 5 a.m., but when it opened at 9 a.m., store manager Kareem Zeffouni told me, “Consumers ran in like something you see on TV” and within eight minutes the store sold 20 58-inch HDTVs.

And there were plenty of HDTVs to choose from. There was a Maxent 58-inch plasma for $1,699, a 50-inch Panasonic plasma for $1,649, a 50-inch Panasonic 1080p Plasma for $2,399, a Philips LCD 47-inch 1080p for $1,599, a 47-inch Vizio LCD for $1,499 and a 46-inch Sony Bravia 1080p LCD for $1,999, with other brands such as Toshiba, Samsung and others represented in the mix here.

The electronics department, which along with jewelry is at the front of this Costco, is “the most important department here,” according to its manager. Business in electronics for Black Friday was “better than last year.” For instance, as soon as Wii game systems were put on the floor they were sold out at this location, said one store employee.

But the biggest surprise came from up Northern Boulevard in Long Island City — the massive Best Buy store there that was opened as a Tops Appliance City location years ago. It’s a regular stop on my Black Friday tour and, as always, the parking lot was packed. But I had never seen people in line outside the store in the afternoon before — in this case around 3 p.m.

After seeing the deals inside I could see why: a 32-inch Insignia LCD 720p for $599, a progressive-scan DVD player from the same brand at $29.99, an 8-inch portable DVD player from Sony at $189, a Philips 5.1 DVD/CD home theater system for $228, and a 19-inch Westinghouse LCD TV for $379 were just some of the deals.

Of the advertised deals, you probably know about the major ones by now: a 42-inch Panasonic 720p Plasma for $899; the 32-inch LCD from Dynex for $449; and a $399 Sony laptop with 1GB memory, DVD RW burner and 120GB hard drive.

As I left the store I asked security — if that was the line of about two or three dozen people at around 3:30 p.m., what was the line at this store like at 5 a.m.? I was introduced to one security employee who was there at that time and he said the line went completely around the block.

So CE sales were fine from what I saw on Black Friday in New York City and based on various reports nationwide. But what about profits? When I asked top industry execs I spoke to at the industry’s annual Anti-Defamation League dinner here a weekend before Black Friday, they said in unison, “Who knows?”

And who knows if the possible record sales during the Thanksgiving weekend means a dip in sales the next couple of weekends as the realities of higher energy costs and a weakening economy makes consumers more hesitant about shopping — and as consumers wait for the next round of price cuts. As was said about profits, “Who knows?”

Happy Holidays.

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