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Pleasant Black Friday Surprises

Contrary to what you might have thought, given all the gloom and doom, Black Friday retail sales were solid this year. And I saw more people shopping for consumer electronics on this traditional shopping day than ever before, at least in my unscientific New York metropolitan area survey.

Luckily, neither senior editor Alan Wolf, who took the early shift visiting stores before the break of dawn on

Black Friday in New Jersey, nor I were witness to anything like the tragic news from the Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, N.Y.

In my abbreviated tour I went to two stores that I have visited in past years in Queens, N.Y., as usual by mid-afternoon: the P.C. Richard & Son store on Steinway St. and, a few blocks away, the Best Buy location right off of Northern Blvd.

Something happened at both stores that didn’t happen in past Black Fridays, when the economy was booming — I couldn’t park in either store’s parking lot.

Of course there were plenty of deals, but deeper than usual? And how were margins? All that will be analyzed in coming days. But based on attitude of the retailers I spoke with, they were closing sales.

I got to P.C Richard at about 3 p.m. The store was packed in just about all departments, except major appliances, but even there you could see several serious sales consultations going on.

As I entered the store I spoke with a sales associate I know who would rather not be quoted by name. When I said the store was more crowded than the same time last year, he said, “Business has been good today. Traffic has been steady … and steady is good for us.”

When I briefly spoke to store manager John Bagadavos and asked what was selling, he grinned and said, “We’re selling everything. It is unexpected.”

And, of course, there were great prices. Here’s a sample from P.C. Richard’s “16-hour” Black Friday sale at this location:

*Samsung 40-inch 1080p HDTV $797, was $1,199;

*Samsung 52-inch, $1,999, was previously $2,699;

* Panasonic 40-inch, $577, was $999;

* Panasonic 50-inch $849, was $1,399.

* Sharp 65-inch, $3,499, was $4,999;

* Sony Blu-ray deck $179, was $299; and

* Sony Bravia 40-inch $949, was $1,349

At Best Buy for the second year in a row I saw a line in front of the Northern Blvd. store, at around 4 p.m. on Black Friday, not 4 a.m. It took about five or 10 minutes to get inside, about the same amount of time as last year.

I found the store’s general manager Buster Bourgeois and he was all smiles just like his counterpart at P.C. Richard. When I asked him the same question about what was selling, he said, “Flat panels, that’s the hottest category.” When I asked about other categories he said, “Sure, plenty of other categories are selling today, such as laptop computers.”

When I walked around the store the computer department was packed, and so was digital cameras, with crowds around the digital SLRs, and I couldn’t even get into the video game area the traffic was so thick.

And just like P.C. Richard, there were plenty of deals. Here are some of them:
*Dynex 19-inch 720p LCD TV, $199;
*LG 32-inch 1080p LCD TV, $699;
*LG Blu-ray deck, model BD300, $349;
*Toshiba 1080p up-converting DVD, model D-R410, $119;
*Sony Bravia model KDL40V4100, $1,399;
*Samsung 40-inch LCD TV, $999;
*Sony HDTV display with PlayStation3 80GB game system, $399;
*42-inch 1080p Bravia LCD TV, $1,499; and
*8.1-channel, 1,000-watt home theater system at $699.
I saw several consumers with Blu-ray decks under their arms and smiles on their faces.

Early surveys indicate that Black Friday sales for all types of retailers were up 3 percent this year. We will see the November sales numbers of some national retailers. And, yes, profits have been hurt to get the types of crowds into these and other stores.

But after all the gloom and doom we have seen and heard, I’m glad I went out again this Black Friday and saw some grins on both consumers and retailers alike.