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S.D. Retailers Pleased With Early Black Friday Results

Black Friday shopping in San Diego started as early as midnight and some retailers are already calling it a success, but local economic experts said today it won't compare to pre-recession times.

"I think things will be surprisingly on the up side,'' University of San Diego economics professor Alan Gin said.

"But we still have problems here -- primarily the huge amount of job loss in the local economy. We are down more than 52,000 jobs compared to last year. So that could put a damper on people spending things.''

Michael Belch, a San Diego State University marketing professor, said he predicts that the Black Friday retail boon in San Diego is "probably not as good as we are hoping.''

"There's still some hesitancy. Right now, in this economy, people are still afraid to spend money,'' Belch told City News Service."People are saying, 'Do I really need to spend what I'm spending?' I think you're going to get a lot of that mentality.''

But shoppers in San Diego turned out in big numbers this morning. Around 6:30 a.m. the California Highway Patrol called for a traffic alert at state Route 163 near the Fashion Valley mall as traffic was congested with shoppers bound to the high-end Mission Valley mall, home to such upscale retailers as Gucci, Jimmy Choo and Tiffanys & Co.

"People were here at midnight wondering why we weren't open yet,'' said Francine Miley, the mall's director of marketing and business development.

Fashion Valley mall, which is owned by Simon Malls, officially opened at 5 a.m. today, but some retailers such as Old Navy opened at 3 a.m. and JCPenney at 4 a.m., Miley said.

The parking lot was full by 4:30 a.m., according to Miley, who added that "the shoppers I saw had more bags in their hands this year than last year.''

Just in case some shoppers were afraid of crowds due to the H1N1 virus scare in the county, mall officials had hand sanitizer dispensers installed throughout Fashion Valley a couple of weeks ago in preparation for Black Friday and the holiday shopping season, Miley said.

Las Americas Premium Outlet may have been the first mall to open in San Diego County for Black Friday. The San Ysidro outlet center, also owned by Simon Malls, opened at midnight, Miley said.

Consumers from Mexico also crossed the border to shop at Las Americas and other San Diego stores. Las Americas is located close to the U.S./Mexico international border.

"You do get affluent Mexicans crossing over to shop in San Diego,'' Belch said. "That makes (San Diego and other border cities) unique in many ways.''

Oscar Sanchez, the manager of the IHOP in Las Americas mall, said the parking lot was already crowded when he arrived to work at 3:30 a.m. today.

The restaurant, which opened at 4:30 a.m., also saw an influx in breakfast patrons today, Sanchez said.

"It's been steady all day long,'' Sanchez said. "It's good for the waiters. They work longer hours and make more money today. Black Friday is more business for everybody.''

Opening in the early morning hours is not only "gimmicky,'' but also helps stores manage the shopping crowds, Belch said.

"Why not have Black Friday sales at 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. instead of 4 a.m. to 10 a.m.?'' the SDSU professor said. "If you can get a lot of the serious shoppers out early, it won't be as crowded for the regular shoppers later.''

Stores also offer major price cuts on a few items as a way to get consumers in early, according to Belch.

"In marketing, we call it a loss leader,'' he said. "You sell products below cost to get people to come in to the store to buy other things. For example, 7-Eleven does it. They'll offer $1 hot dogs or 99 cents Big Gulp, so they can sell you the box of cigarettes there.''

The day is significant for retailers, the local economic experts said. Black Friday can make up for being in the red, or at a loss, for most of the year.

Gin said he can't provide an exact percentage of what Black Friday contributes to a company's annual accounting, but he estimates that the fourth quarter of the shopping season "is where the retailers end up having the bulk of their annual sales and profitability.''

Black Friday not only begins the Christmas shopping season, it also an indicator for retailers, Belch said.

"If it doesn't go well today, you'll start seeing company deepen the discounts right away,'' Belch said. "If it goes well, they won't worry about offering discounts until later.''