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Friday, November 28, 2008

Walmart Stampede Kills at least 2 black friday shoppers

A 34-year-old man was trampled to death in a rush of Black Friday shoppers at a Long Island mall today, police said.

Long lines of shoppers thronged outside the Wal-Mart at the Green Acres mall in Valley Stream before it opened for post-Thanksgiving business at 5 a.m. This resulted in a Black Friday stampede at Walmart.

"When the doors opened, all hell broke loose," a law enforcement source told The Post.

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An unidentified man, believed to be a store employee who tried to restrain the oncoming juggernaut, was knocked to the ground at 5:03 a.m.


He was rushed to a local hospital but declared dead at 6:03, police said.

Four other people were hospitalized, including a 28-year-old pregnant woman. She was knocked to the store floor a short distance from where the 34-year-old man was trampled and her fate was unclear. Names of those killed at the Black Friday Walmart stampede have not yet been released.

The other three people taken to hospitals suffered minor injuries.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in Bentonville, Ark., called the incident a "tragic situation" and said the employee came from a temporary agency and was doing maintenance work at the store.

"The safety and security of our customers and associates is our top priority," said Wal-Mart representative Dan Fogleman. "Our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families at this difficult time. At this point, facts are still being assembled and we are working closely with the Nassau County police as they investigate what occurred."

"We are not aware of any other circumstances where a retail employee has died working on the day after Thanksgiving," said Ellen Davis, a spokeswoman at National Retail Federation.

Shoppers around the country line up early outside stores on the day after Thanksgiving in the annual bargain-hunting ritual known as Black Friday. It got that name because it has historically been the day when stores broke into profitability for the full year.

Many stores open early and stay open late. The Valley Stream Wal-Mart usually opens at 9 a.m.

Items on sale at the Wal-Mart store included a $798 Samsung 50-inch Plasma HDTV, a Bissel Compact Upright Vaccum for $28, a Samsung 10.2 megapixel digital camera for $69 and DVDs such as "The Incredible Hulk" for $9.

Thousands of bargain hunters got a jump on Black Friday sales from Roosevelt Field in East Garden City to the Tanger factory outlet in Riverhead Friday morning, kicking off the holiday season amid bleak sales forecasts.

The shopping was marred by the tragic death of a 34-year-old Wal-Mart worker who was knocked to the ground after "a throng of shoppers physically broke down the doors," pushing their way into the store at the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, police said. READ COMPLETE STORY

Lining up outside stores in the wee hours of the morning -- some even excusing themselves early from Thanksgiving dinner tables Thursday afternoon, many shoppers were keen on checking off items on their gift-giving lists.

Retailers are locked in fierce competition because of a consumer spending drop and because Thanksgiving fell so late in November, leaving the holiday season with fewer shopping days than last year.

Predictions of retail experts range from an optimistic 2.2 percent growth -- below the 10-year average of 4.4 percent growth -- to a pessimistic 1 percent drop.

Nationally, up to 128 million people will shop this Friday, Saturday or Sunday, according to a preliminary Black Friday shopping survey conducted by BIGresearch for the National Retail Federation. That's down slightly from the 135 million people who said they would or may shop over Black Friday weekend last year.

Bargain hunters on Long Island rushed to local stores late Thursday night and early Friday morning to get a jump on Black Friday sales.

Tommy DeGennaro and his wife, Rosette, celebrated their 20th Black Friday shopping excursion, matching the number of years they've been married.

"She dragged me out the first time," Tommy DeGennaro said Friday morning in the Smith Haven Mall as groups of fellow bargain hunters scurried around him. "Now, it's kind of a family tradition. We go out, look for sales . . . Hey, somebody's got to help out the economy."

The former Commack residents, now living in Las Vegas, brought Rosette DeGennaro's sister, Dina Mossalam of Northport, to the mall at 4 a.m., when the doors at JC Penney opened.

"I thought they were crazy when we started driving and no one was on the road," Mossalam said. "But once we got here, there were some really good sales."

Tommy DeGennaro said the traffic at Smith Haven seemed to be down from previous years, perhaps as much as 40 percent. But Mossalam was surprised how quickly the shopping crowd multiplied. "We were third in a line at JC Penney," she said, "and just stepped out for a moment. When we went to get back in line, it had grown to about 50 people."

Still, not all of the early-bird shoppers felt the effort and lack of sleep paid off.

Lisa Palmeri of Mount Sinai, making her fourth consecutive Black Friday appearance at Smith Haven Mall, didn't think there were enough bargains.

"The sales are so-so," she said. "I didn't think it was worth it this year."

Black Friday ads drove Sriteja Rao, 23, of Hicksville to shop at the Broadway Mall at dawn. "We've been out since four this morning. We started our morning at Sports Authority in Westbury," Rao said of his shopping trip with his girlfriend, Lauren Loechner, 25 of Merrick. "We thought that in 2006 and 2007 discounts were better."

Despite that, the couple bought a $365 elliptical machine -- which typically costs $500.

"When you look at the ads Thanksgiving Day, it really enticed," said Rao, who added that he was disappointed that Steve & Barry's, the retailer in bankruptcy court, was closed at the time.

"But the problem is some stores like Best Buy have limited quantities," he said, adding that consumers were pretty calm.

Sister Marilyn Pfriender, 78, also of Hicksville, was up early -- but not as early as Rao. The nun said that the sales prompted her to shop Friday morning, and that the graciousness of the employees was also a plus. At Macy's she shopped for clothing gifts -- spending about $110 and saving about $40.

Karen Grillo, 41, and her son, Steven, 17, of Massapequa, camped outside the Circuit City in Hicksville starting Thursday at 4 p.m. and were first in line for the store's 5 a.m. Friday opening.

Despite the mid-30s chill in the wee hours of the morning, they were in fine spirits, focused on buying a $399.99 laptop as a gift for Steven's brother. "This economy kind of kills you, so you have to make sacrifices," Grillo said.

Their survival methods included taking bathroom breaks in shifts, and, Grillo said, "We scouted out a 24-hour McDonald's."

About 200 people had lined up before 5 a.m., and store employees were handing out vouchers for certain limited sale items.

Lines of shoppers snaked around and beyond the Westbury Toys R Us waiting to grab deals. For many, the hectic pre-dawn shopping was a first.

"I think I saved over $150," said Melenie Serrano, 33, of Freeport.

The deals were amazing, she said as her sister interrupted to report that another family member bought five Champion sweatshirts for $75.

At Best Buy in Westbury, people continued to line up outside the store with flyers in hand. Many said they came to buy a specific item rather than simply to look for bargains in general. Several said they were looking to save $300-$400 on flat-screen TVs.

Manny Akim said he was waiting to buy the $10 DVD "Transformers" movie and nothing more.

Kelly Maher, 19, of Lindenhurst, along with a group of family and relatives, emerged triumphant from Wal-Mart in Massapequa at about 6 a.m.

They had arrived at about 5 a.m., as the store was about to open, and were toward the back of the line. "I saw people pushing and shoving," Maher said.

The shoppers snapped up a dorm room chair, a $120-basketball hoop and a Mario Kart videogame at Wal-Mart, but the morning was young. Their next stops, they said, were Target, Kohl's, Macy's and Burlington Coat Factory.

"We do this every year," said Maher's aunt, Toni Clemens, 45, of Copiague.

Gabrielle Mitchell, 28, from Rockville Centre, was out at the stores in Hicksville at 3:45 a.m. waiting for them to open. Almost four hours later, she said she had spent more than $1,600.

"I start when the first stores open," she said. "If they opened earlier, I'd be here earlier."

Suzanne Walsh, 24, is visiting the Island from Poughkeepsie and started her fourth Black Friday shopping expedition early Friday morning in Hicksville. She said her fellow shoppers were behaving.

"People have been really nice so far," she said. "There hasn't been any vicious action."

Alison Hernandez, 36, of Oyster Bay, was taking part in her first pre-dawn shopping on Black Friday, "because my son is still sleeping, so I can escape," she said. Hernandez, who left her young son with her husband, said she ordinarily spends $500 during the holiday season but this year expects to spend $300.

"Last year the line was too long," said Elizabeth Garcia, 25, in line at the Coach outlet store at the Tanger Outlet mall in Riverhead since 3 p.m. Thursday. "So this year I promised myself to be the first one."

She kept her promise. The Valley Stream resident said her efforts would help her save $500 on the three pocketbooks she planned to buy.

At the Riverhead outlet mall and the sparkling new Tanger Outlet at the Arches in Deer Park, parking lots were filling up quickly by 11:30 Thursday night.

In Deer Park, mall employees shivered in the cold as they directed traffic into the lots and handed out store directories ahead of the mall's midnight opening. Some stores like Calvin Klein were letting customers in by 11:30 p.m.

Mechielle Chapman, 38, of Baldwin, was with her husband Eugene, 39, as she studied the outdoor directory map. She said it was their first time venturing out to shop on Thanksgiving.

"It's an adventure. This is something new," Chapman said. "How many will come out and do this?"

Chapman said in a typical holiday season she would spend about $2,500 in holiday presents for her kids. This year, she will reign in the spending to about $1,500.

Shoppers in Riverhead stood in long lines waiting to get in at several stores including Coach, the Timberland store and Victoria's Secret. All were running "midnight madness sales." Some shoppers were brought by sales, others said it was to establish new traditions.

Others didn't let the old tradition of hanging with their family all day keep them from a sale.

"I left dinner early," Dazi Nunez, 21, of Port Jefferson said as he stood in line at Timberland hoping to snag a pair of sale boots for himself once the store opened. "They were upset but they understand."

Brenda Sickles, 26, drove all the way from Whitestone, Queens to change her fortunes from last year, when she didn't get any bargains at Best Buy in Westbury.

"The line was around the building so we just left," Sickles said. This time she showed up at 9 p.m. for the midnight opening at Coach.

"Hopefully we'll have better luck," Sickeles said.

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