Dispatches from the field: PG reporters check out Black Friday

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It's easy for Carolee Cavalier to tell you what drove her to Jo-Ann Fabrics at 6 a.m. today.

"Flannel and fleece," she said, gesturing to a shopping card full of fabric.

Ms. Cavalier and her friend, Jan Young, initiated the uninformed on just how good these deals were. Fabric that usually cost $6.99 per yard was selling for $1.74. More than $8 was sheared from the price of fleece, hitting bargain-basement levels of $2.99 per yard.

Enthusiastic as they were, the two friends from Greensburg had nothing on some shoppers pushing carts full of fabric towers.

Ms. Cavalier and Ms. Young stood a bit away from the fray, waiting until their number was called by the cutting table. They were numbers 74 and 75, and there was a while to go. They admired a color-blocking design that Ms. Young picked up. It reminded them of designs seen on "Laugh-In."

The two were decidedly calmer than the rest of the cart-clogged store.

"You'll want to take a deep breath before turning that corner," Ms. Cavalier said, pointing toward the cutting table and its line.

They were, of course, among the bargain hunters seeking Black Friday deals. This year, with so many stores opening on Thanksgiving night, instead of waiting until the traditional day after sales, there seemed to be two waves of shoppers: late night and early morning.

But not everything went smoothly.

In West Mifflin, a fire in an elevator shaft closed the Sears store and forced the evacuation of the adjacent Philip Pelusi hair salon shortly before 9 a.m..

No other stores were affected, mall general manager Gina Mercorelli said.

And technical difficulties appear to have marred one of OfficeMax's biggest Black Friday sales.

The office retailer is selling Norton Anti-Virus software for $19.99 -- down from its usual $99.99.

But the cash register network needed to activate the software purchase went down earlier this morning at the Greensburg store, and one employee said the network outage was affecting locations nationwide.

The Norton software must be activated when purchased so the same disc can't be used on multiple devices. The network needed for those activations is also used for gift card purchases.

Shoppers at the Greensburg site were told they could return later to buy the software at the Black Friday price.

Elsewhere was hit and miss.

Just after 3 a.m. the parking lot at h.h. Gregg in Wilkins had fewer than a dozen cars, but Best Buy was still busy.

Route 30 in Greensburg was relatively quiet as stores and shoppers prepared for the next wave of openings and deals expected to start around 5 a.m.

No line stretched outside Best Buy, and only a few people were spotted in the Giant Eagle open for shoppers who want to buy gift cards for today's spending.

One market was booming in the early-morning lull: restaurants. The Dunkin' Donuts had a line at the cash register. The McDonald's was so busy the workers forgot to switch the signs over to the breakfast menu in the Drive-Thru (it was hurriedly fixed as two employees ran out).

And the new IHOP, located next to the Barnes and Noble in Hempfield, had the most number of cars filling its parking lot around 4 a.m.

Some places, it wasn't Black Friday at all -- just Friday.

There is nary a mention of Black Friday at the Dollar Tree in Morgantown. But that's because everything's only a dollar already.

Workers wouldn't talk a reporter without going through the corporate office, but it was clear that selling stuff on the cheap wasn't news to either employees or customers here.

The Chesapeake, Va.-based company sells health and beauty items, kitchenware, cleaning supplies and snacks among dozens of other items.

As a customer walking out said, "It's like Black Friday in here all year 'round."

As the earliest early birds started tapering off this morning, a second wave of shoppers was just geting started. Several hundred people lined up outside J.C. Penney at the Monroeville Mall ahead of its 6 a.m. opening.

The store actually began letting customers in at 5:55, even though many of the store's lights, set to come on at 6 were still dark. Within 5 minutes the five-quart slow cookers, the toaster ovens, the 12-cup coffee makers and the non-stick griddles all on sale for $8 were gone.

Al Bergman was trying to keep the tempo up at the Macy's at Westmoreland Mall in Greensburg in the 5 a.m. hour.Helping him along: Mariah Carey, Andy Williams and the Macarena.

Mr. Bergman is the DJ hired for the Black Friday festivities. He sat behind a table and small laptop that played through a pre-set list of Christmas standards culled from his CD collection (his usual repertoire for Saturday afternoons at the store is more general interest).

"All I Want for Christmas Is You" by Mariah Carey kicked things off.

In Morgantown, W.Va., the scene was slightly different this morning.

Besides the thumping hip hop music in the background, the Morgantown Mall was pretty quiet around 6 a.m. The restaurants in the food court were open, though the lines were short at Wong's Wok and Sbarro.

The mall opened at midnight, and "all the crazies came out then," according to Bo Saxon, who was shopping at Four Horsemen Comics and Gaming, a specialty hobby store.

He bought a card game called "Munchkin Apocalypse" and hobby paint for 15 percent off.

WVAQ morning show hosts Kevin Connoley and Sarah McGuire were stationed in the food court for their first time broadcasting from the mall on Black Friday.

For more updates, including photos and Twitter posts, check out the PG's Black Friday blog. And send your Black Friday pictures to bizphotos@post-gazette.com. We may feature them on the website.

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Erich Schwartzel: eschwartzel@post-gazette.com. Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com. Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com. Patricia Sabatini contributed. First Published November 23, 2012 9:00 AM


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