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A Black Friday Snapshot From Queens, N.Y.

After my wife Marion and I hosted 17 of our hungry relatives for Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, I got up, slightly earlier than usual, to visit two stores in nearby Queens, N.Y., to at least get a feel for what business was like on this year’s Black Friday.

There was no pepper spray or NYPD cars outside the Astoria P.C. Richard & Son or the Best Buy location in Long Island City by mid-morning. But there were a few surprises.

I got to P.C. Richard at around 9:30 a.m., and the parking lot was packed and the sales floor was busy. My first surprise was to see Todd Costello, sales VP of the chain, “making the rounds” at various locations of the chain and competitors since early morning. He said that business at this location and other P.C. Richard was “good and steady” since they opened at 5 a.m., and that some store managers “wanted to open before 5 a.m., and some of them did.”

When asked if he thought P.C. Richard lost sales by not opening at midnight or late Thanksgiving evening, Costello said, “Look around … these are our regular customers. The midnight customers who come in for once-a-year deals are not.”

Even at 9:30 a.m. there were plenty of deals on the P.C. Richard floor from some name brands: a $198 Coby 32-inch HDTV, an LG Blu-ray deck for $68.88, a Samsung Blu-ray player for $79.97, a Sony 46-inch Google TV for $798, and, what Costello called, “the deal of the century,” a 60-inch Sharp LED LCD for $998.

When asked about the deep discounting on Black Friday, Costello said, “When it comes to Black Friday you have to ask yourself, ‘How much volume do you want to do?’ Really, you have to ask management, ‘How much [profit] do you want to give away?’ We feel we are competitive and are doing well today.”

As for opening at midnight or late Thanksgiving night, the latter an issue that P.C. Richard is notably against, Costello said he spoke with store personnel at publicly held chains who were bitter about losing part of their Thanksgiving. He asked, rhetorically, “I’m the sales VP of P.C. Richard and I’ve been visiting stores and our competitors’ stores since midnight. Are top execs from public chains doing the same?”

I then drove over to the nearby Best Buy location on Northern Boulevard around 10:30 a.m., and while the parking lot was packed, there was no line outside the door, a first in my annual visits to this store on Black Friday. But this was the first time Best Buy opened at midnight on Black Friday, so I wasn’t shocked.

Still, I wanted to hear from a neutral observer what may have happened here at midnight, so I stopped and bought a soda from one of the hot dog vendors outside the store, commenting that there was no line outside. The vendor responded, “Oh, you should have been here at midnight! The line went around the block!”

That was confirmed by one of the Blue Shirts I spoke with inside the store and with the location’s general manager Alan Crohn, who said the line literally wrapped around the entire block – a big industrial-sized city block.And the deals on the floor were plentiful. There was a $199 Sharp 42-inch HDTV, and Best Buy’s Dynex 24-inch HDTV for $80 was very popular, with “100 [selling] in 30 minutes,” Crohn said. Apple’s iPad and Macs were very popular, along with all types of laptops, he noted, and a $299 Bose SoundDock Series 1 was selling very well at $249. Crohn added that the store’s Magnolia HiFi department was doing “better than expected” on Black Friday as well.

Concerning the chain’s decision to open early, Crohn said, “I got here at 8 p.m. [Thanksgiving night] and we really didn’t know what to expect since some customers complained [prior to the holiday] … but we had a line wrapped around the block.” And he pointed out that business had been steady through the morning with good traffic, even if I didn’t see a line outside the door when I came in.

In touring this Best Buy, the store had registers located in several spots, with the longest lines when I was there around the camera and accessory departments.

As I got into my car to drive home around 11:30 a.m. – I couldn’t get a space in the parking lot and parked on the street – what did I see but a big line forming outside the Best Buy once again. That only illustrates the ebb and flow of retail on any day, but especially on Black Friday.

It may be too early to give an indication of what the holiday sales season may be like, but the business at these two stores and reports from around the country on Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales gave the industry well-deserved optimism for the month ahead.