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Penny Peete shops at Best Buy in Tonawanda, N.Y., at around three o'clock in the morning during Black Friday. (JENNIFER ROBERTS FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Penny Peete shops at Best Buy in Tonawanda, N.Y., at around three o'clock in the morning during Black Friday. (JENNIFER ROBERTS FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

What they bargained for: Shoppers’ tales offer glimpse into Black Friday Add to ...

In what’s being called the longest Black Friday ever, shoppers across the United States who opted to scarf down their turkey dinners were able to hunt for bargains beginning Thursday evening and overnight. Here are some of their stories.

In New York:

At midnight, the line to get into Best Buy in Tonawanda, N.Y., stretched all along the side of the building, and the next one over, as far as the Target store two parking lots down, said 19-year-old Michael Ramirez. He took one look at it and gave up, which is why he didn’t leave the store with his new Insignia 39-inch TV until 2:20 in the morning. It’s the cheapest TV he could get – $299.99, down $50 from its usual price.

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He wasn’t shopping nearly this much last year. Unemployed for medical reasons, he had to watch his wallet. But this year he is working construction, and is about to start a second job in security. He says he feels people’s confidence is not back to pre-recession levels, but it is definitely better than last year.

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Jose Mercado, 39, brought his son Nathan to Best Buy in the middle of the night because he knew there would be good deals on electronics. They are leaving at 2 a.m. with a new Samsung computer.

“I’m feeling a little more confident this year,” Mr. Mercado says. That’s largely because the printing and paper company he works for as a network administrator is stable, and he feels his job is safe. But he’s still spending carefully – he keeps control of his cash flow diligently every holiday, even if he is feeling confident.

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Eric Peters’s girlfriend wants him to tell the Canadian reporter that he feels better this year not because he got a promotion (he did) or because he makes more money (he does), but because unlike last year, she is by his side. She elbows him, laughing at her own joke in the frigid parking lot at 2:30 a.m. He laughs gamely, his arms wrapped around a 32-inch LG LCD TV. They also found some Blu-rays and DVDs, shopping for themselves and others for Christmas.

But while he knows the value of agreeing with the woman in his life, beyond his personal job improvement he points to the recent election to explain his surge in confidence.

“I’m confident about the economy because of the election,” he says. “Obama won. And I’m confident he’ll take us out of this recession.”

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“I’m more confident. I just think there’s more work out there. I have more work,” said Penny Peete, a 49-year old single mother of five. She works two nursing jobs and has been getting more overtime, which is helping to fuel her Black Friday shopping. At 2:40 a.m., she predicts she’ll get no sleep tonight. She has already hit Sears, Wal-Mart and Kmart, where she bought two electric fireplaces, one for her mother. She’s now looking for a TV for her mom to put on the fireplace mantle. She’s also hunting for electronics for her son, and a little something for her grandbaby as well.

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Tracey Daub drove down from Hamilton, Ont. The 47-year-old housewife already hit Wal-Mart, and was at Best Buy to see the midnight rush as people ran to get in. “Unbelievable. It was nuts,” she said.

She came away with a 40-inch Panasonic TV, a camera, and some DVDs. But it is her first time cross-border shopping in a couple of years. Money is tighter, she explains.

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Andrea Russell, 45, also drove down, from Ajax, Ont. But like Ms. Daub, she wasn’t feeling too confident. An educational assistant, she worries about the labour unrest in the sector. Still, as an avid cross-border shopper she is much happier to take the trip with a high Canadian dollar.

“I’m watching my money, but spending more because we’re looking for the good deals,” she said. A modest find – a small TV for the bedroom, but at just $78 – has already made her weekend, she said.

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At the Walden Galleria mall in Buffalo, N.Y., cars slithered around corners and through each aisle in search of a spot, or a homeward shopper not already being stalked by a vehicle.

A teenage girl running toward a store ran almost directly into, and tripped over, an ATM.

More than three of the tables at the food court were taken up by shoppers, likely having begun early this morning or last night, power napping with their heads on the tables.

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Lynn Sigeti clearly loves to shop. Taking a break at the food court at the Walden Galleria mall, the chair opposite her and most of the tabletop is taken up with bags. She has been here shopping since 7:30 a.m., her second outing after a madhouse trip to Toys R Us the night before -- where she waited an hour to get in, the line snaked back and forth through the store, she says, and people's carts were full. But as successful as she is at Black Friday shopping, she is doing less of it this year.

Mostly that's because her son, a 33-year-old who graduated from law school this past July, is in a fledgling stage of his career where he cannot yet support himself. So Ms. Sigeti, an administrative nurse at a local hospital, is helping him out, and that has tied up her finances.

Except when it comes to her granddaughter, however, for whom she has already bought two presents today.

"She's spoiled rotten," Ms. Sigeti says. "... That's what grandmothers are for."

Actually, Ms. Sigeti admits without prompting, she hates Christmas. It's all about brands. She'd prefer to give gifts throughout the year, or do things like help her son when he needs it, or give her daughter some support to help with her grandchild.

"This year, I'm trying to buy less and enjoy my family more," she says. "I'll start crying soon!"

The way she shops is also changing. While Ms. Sigeti is weighed down with bags today, she says she'll end up doing likely about one third of her Christmas shopping online -- especially for bulky, heavier items. She is "a huge QVC-er" and appreciates the convenience of free shipping.

Speaking to her friends and colleagues, she does not get the feeling that confidence is up this year.

"It's gotten worse for a lot of people, especially in this area," she says. "There's a lot of layoffs."

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In Washington:

Alyssa Dotson made the 70-minute drive across the border from Vancouver to Bellingham, Wash., to take advantage of Black Friday sales at the Bellis Fair mall, which opened at midnight.

"Excruciatingly good deals," the Canadian said, as she pushed a shopping cart filled with clothes and other bargains.

Her husband Brian, originally from New Orleans, nodded in approval as she talked about getting 70-per-cent off on an array of purchases. With their 15-year-old son and four-year-old daughter in tow, the family began plotting their next move at 5:30 a.m. to buy more merchandise before heading back to Canada.

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Josh Newman is pleased to be working on Black Friday, happy to be at the sales counter at Arch Telecom, where he gets commissions for everything from selling cellphones to earbuds.

At the Bellis Fair mall, Mr. Newman makes Washington state's minimum wage of $9.04 (U.S.), plus commissions -- a welcome incentive after a bout of unemployment.

"It was rough going for a while. Now that I have a job, it's a lot less worrisome," he said.

Mr. Newman, 23, had been unemployed for eight months until he landed a job in late July, unloading merchandise from trucks. Then he got the job offer from Arch Telecom at the Bellingham, Wash., mall two weeks ago.

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Thirza Zagelow, a teacher from Bellingham, Wash., said the U.S. economy is on the mend.

"But people are still cautious. The economy needs to improve more than it has," said Ms. Zagelow, who showed up with her 11-year-old granddaughter for Black Friday deals at the Bellis Fair mall in Bellingham.

Ms. Zagelow said she prefers to pay for her purchases with cash, avoiding credit cards.

She added that she hopes the re-election of U.S. President Barack Obama will lead to a period of prosperity.

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