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Wal-Mart's Black Friday starts busy, but peaceful

By Aaron Smith, staff writer

VALLEY STREAM, N.Y. (CNNMoney.com) -- Black Friday was decidedly less dangerous at the Wal-Mart store on New York's Long Island where a worker was fatally trampled two years ago.

This year, there was no Pamplona-style running of the shoppers at midnight, as there was on Black Friday 2008, when the doors were opened to a frenzied crush of shoppers who overpowered employees in their scramble for discounted laptops and flatscreen TVs.

This Thanksgiving, the doors were open all day at the Valley Stream store, even though the most popular deals didn't start until midnight. Also, rows of metal barricades were set up outside to corral shoppers into organized lines, instead of a zombie-like mob.

Not everybody was happy about it, though.

"Yo, this is just like Rikers," said a young man to his girlfriend, referring to New York City's island jail, as they filed through the metal gates. "I'm gonna puke."

They were among hundreds of shoppers who poured into Wal-Mart before midnight, when Black Friday officially began. That's when certain discounted items became available, such as the 32-inch Emerson flatscreen TV and the eMachines laptop that each sold for $198. Shoppers queued up for those products hours in advance, holding tickets that guaranteed their purchase of the coveted electronics.

Hundreds of customers formed lines that snaked through the aisles, clogging sections of the store as they leaned on shopping carts overflowing with Nerf guns, Tonka trucks, Dora the Explorers, sleeping children, vacuum cleaners, Hotwheels Jeeps, Ripper three-wheeled scooters, stacks of towels, more vacuum cleaners and the Justin Bieber backstage pass board game.

"There's no more Emerson TVs!" announced an employee, exactly one minute after midnight.

"This is crazy!" exclaimed one of the shoppers. "How can they be sold out?"

But there was no hysteria and no stampede. Security personnel were everywhere, and in some parts of the store the employees almost matched the customers one for one. But even aside from security, the shoppers seemed oddly calm.

"So far, so good," said Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500) spokesman Greg Rossiter, about half an hour into Black Friday. He said the store had been consulting "crowd management experts" over the last couple of years, to better manage the flow of shoppers.

"It was crowded but decent," said Bernadine Evans of Brooklyn, who stood outside the store with a shopping cart full of cookware. "I think it's improved. The workers have more courtesy. They help you find what you're looking for. The lines are long but they're moving very fast."

Even the sea of humanity at the 26 cash registers was behaving itself, with hardly a shout or hint of anger.

Though there was one hyperactive teenager in the video game department who attracted the staff scrutiny with his histrionics.

"Oh! Penalty! Penalty! You got a free kick, bro!" yelled the teen, who was watching a younger kid play soccer on an Xbox 360. "Yo, kick him in the face, man!"

When a staffer walked over to see what the commotion was about, the teen explained: "He's mad good, yo!" To top of page

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