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TWICE On The Scene: Black Friday ’08

As has become custom for millions of Americans and this publication, TWICE hit the strip malls preposterously early on Black Friday morning and lingered throughout the day. Here’s our account of the post-Thanksgiving ritual in and around the New York metropolitan area:

4:30 a.m.: Dinesh Ramchandani, general manager of Best Buy store #456 in Woodbridge, N.J., delivers the final pep talk to his assembled staff. “Just do your job and talk to the customer,” he reminds them. “Give the customer a complete solution to suit their lifestyle. It’s time to look out for our customers and it’s time to win!”

He also asks the store’s Black Friday veterans to “look out for the young ones.”

5:00 a.m.: Ramchandani gives security the nod and Best Buy opens its doors. The crowd enters in an orderly fashion under the watchful gaze of local police officers. The cops were hired to prevent the mayhem of two years prior, when line-cutting led to a near riot.

First in the queue was a young man named Christian who arrived early Wednesday evening to secure a 46-inch Samsung 1080p LCD TV for $1,100. Also sought after by the crowd was a 32-inch, 720p private-label Dynex LCD TV for $400.

6:15 a.m.: At a nearby Sears, the electronics aisles are choked with customers waiting to pay for their early-bird specials, which included a 46-inch Sharp 1080p LCD TV for $900 and a TomTom PND with 3.5-inch screen for $100.

6:45 a.m.: Security outside a nearby Circuit City is strictly controlling the number of customers allowed in. Shoppers are queued up past the storefront, but the line is sparse compared to other venues this morning.

7:00 a.m.: The line at a nearby Sixth Avenue Electronics is wrapped around the store, and Steven Hayes, a security and loss prevention specialist on loan from corporate headquarters, estimates the crowd at about 1,000 strong. A veteran of eight prior Black Fridays, he notes that the New York metro area has historically remained resilient in the face of economic adversity, as evidenced by the steady parade of large, flat-panel TVs that consumers are carting out the door. Sales are strong across all product categories, Hayes says, from $200 LCD TVs to $4,000 home entertainment systems.

3:00 p.m.: At a P.C. Richard & Son store located along the busy Steinway Street shopping corridor in Queens, N.Y., the parking lot is full, as are most of the departments. “Business has been good today,” a sales associate understates. “Traffic has been steady … and steady is good for us.”

Asked what is selling, store manager John Bagadavos grins. “We’re selling everything,” he says. “It is unexpected.”

One of the sharpest deals at P.C. Richard’s “16-hour” Black Friday sale is Panasonic’s 42-inch 720p plasma TV, offered at the seeming cost price of $578 (and $575 at Sixth Avenue).

4:00 p.m.: The parking lot is also packed at a Best Buy on nearby Northern Blvd., and there’s a five- to 10-minute wait to get in, same as last year. Inside, general manager Buster Bourgeois is all smiles, just like his counterpart at P.C. Richard. The hottest category here is flat panels, he says, although “plenty of other categories are selling today, such as laptop computers.”

Indeed, the computer department is packed, as is the digital camera area, with crowds surrounding the digital SLRs. And the traffic is so thick in the video game section that entering is impossible.

Elsewhere in the store, several customers can be seen with Blu-ray decks under their arms and smiles on their faces, matching those of the merchants.