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GUY RAZ, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

RAZ: Happy Black Friday.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

RAZ: That's the sound of employees and customers at the Toys "R" Us in Times Square, cheering the kickoff of the holiday shopping season. Many stores opened earlier than ever, some on Thanksgiving Day. The National Retail Federation says based on early showings, holiday sales are on track for a slight increase, to $465 billion this year. That's despite the sluggish economy. NPR's Yuki Noguchi has been monitoring the shopping scene since yesterday and sent this report.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: By the time it opened at 9 p.m. last night, that Toys "R" Us had drawn a line of people snaking around the corner from its entrance on 44th Street. It extended two blocks. Angela Jenkins was there with two other girlfriends and no kids.

ANGELA JENKINS: I left my boyfriend with all of our kids. Seven kids right now? Maybe eight kids.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JENKINS: Yeah. We sure did. By himself, yeah. By himself.

NOGUCHI: In this instance, preparing for Black Friday means more than just grabbing a coat and purse.

JENKINS: Give him a kiss here and there.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JENKINS: You had to throw that in there, huh? Yeah. Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JENKINS: You got to do what you got to do.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NOGUCHI: Like many people going to somewhat extreme measures to shop, Jenkins's friend Louise Hamilton says one must follow a well-orchestrated plan.

LOUISE HAMILTON: A week and a half or two weeks in advance, we had like - we looked online at all the circulars that they have for the stores, and we planned how we're going to do it.

NOGUCHI: In the case of Toys "R" Us, this involves a 28-page circular that in total represents some $12,000 of savings. Getting the $50 off an iPod or $100 off on an Xbox requires some sacrifice or insanity, depending on your perspective. Yanpiero Taveras left his family before the Thanksgiving meal to get in line at the Times Square Toys "R" Us.

YANPIERO TAVERAS: Right now, at this very minute, they're eating, and I'm right here waiting. My mom told me: Don't go. Don't go. I didn't even eat. I'm, like, hungry. That's how much I wanted the PS3.

NOGUCHI: It's a tradeoff that Taveras may not have realized is not necessary. This year, more people are expected to shop from their wireless phones, tablets or computers without putting the time standing in line.

GERALD STORCH: For Black Friday, we have the same deals online as we have in the store.

NOGUCHI: Gerald Storch is CEO of Toys "R" Us.

STORCH: And again, we've seen a lot of growth online. I expect to see even more this year online. But still, the vast majority of sales take place in the stores, as evidenced by the long lines we're seeing tonight.

NOGUCHI: Jim Hook is the store manager at a Gaithersburg, Maryland, Target, which like some other chains, opened earlier than ever, at midnight.

JIM HOOK: The very first person in line got there at two on Thanksgiving. So they waited 10 hours for us to open.

NOGUCHI: Black Friday has inspired plenty of backlash, from critics of consumerism as well as employees who don't want to work. Also in some areas of the country, shopping in the cloak of darkness has become dangerous sport. In California, there were two incidents of robbery and apparent gang-related violence in parking lots, and police are investigating one incident where a customer used pepper spray against fellow shoppers. But Hook says despite the clamor for heavily discounted flat-screen TVs, his Maryland store's customers remained very civil and orderly.

HOOK: Every management person in our stores went through crowd-control training this year. That's the first time ever that we've done that.

NOGUCHI: Customers were allowed to enter 30 at a time, at 20-second intervals, to prevent a stampede. And those at the front of the line were given tickets entitling them to the items in limited supply. Cones and security tape were set up in the store to encourage orderly customer flow. Back in Times Square, I asked Toys "R" Us CEO Gerald Storch whether he, like his customers, might have skip out on turkey and stuffing in the name of shopping.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STORCH: Of course, we had Thanksgiving dinner.

NOGUCHI: By the next morning, Storch reported he'd also had four cups of coffee to help him stay up through the night. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News.

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