BLACK FRIDAY, the day to rejoice in great deals or revolt against massive consumerism, has arrived.
The annual post-Thanksgiving, shop-till-you-drop tradition that kicks off the holiday shopping season, and is covered by the media with a frenzy befitting a World Series game, has its feverish fans and its devoted detractors.
It's a day when retailers entice shoppers with deep discounts, when malls give out free snacks and when festive events are intended to get everyone "into the spirit" of the season, retail observers say.
For anti-consumer advocates, Black Friday is known as "Buy Nothing Day," a time to stay away from bustling malls and reflect, they say, on the toll that consumerism has taken on the planet.
Organizers around the country have planned public events, such as credit-card cutups, protests outside retailers and, in Minneapolis, a screening of the 2007 documentary "What Would Jesus Buy?"
For most Americans and Philadelphians, however, it's buy-buy-buy day.
Here are some of the locations:
* Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust malls. Cumberland Mall, Cherry Hill Mall, Exton Square Mall, the Gallery at Market East, Moorestown Mall, Plymouth Meeting Mall, Springfield Mall, Voorhees Town Center and Willow Grove Park. Holiday Hours: All malls are open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. today, but retailers' hours may vary, so check preit.com or the stores' Web sites for exact times.
PREIT Malls are enticing shoppers to spend early and often this season with a $25,000 sweepstakes promotion.
Shoppers receive one chocolate bar wrapped in a contest entry form for every 75 bucks spent at any of the nine malls, today through Dec. 13, said Debi Gilson, PREIT's East Region marketing director. (Even Gilson concedes that the campaign has shades of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.") For those who brave the early hours, the PREIT malls will offer free breakfast snacks, such as coffee, water, bananas and cans of Red Bull.
Each mall's Web site will list promotions and retailer's hours.
* King of Prussia Mall. Holiday Hours: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. today; 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. tomorrow; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. Check kingofprussiamall.com for retailers' hours, which may vary. Both Sears and JC Penney will open at 4 a.m. today.
The King of Prussia Mall, "KOP" to some, is not messing around this shopping season: Free Wi-Fi service throughout the mall, valet services at five locations and a courtesy shuttle that stops throughout the mall.
And this year, social-networking sites Facebook and Twitter will be a major part of the Black Friday experience, said mall spokeswoman Lindsay Thompson. KOP employees, armed with iPhones, will live-tweet and update its Facebook page about parking and store promotions, Thompson said.
* Toys "R" Us. Holiday hours: 7 a.m. to midnight today and tomorrow; 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.
The toy chain will open at midnight today, and that means just one thing for parents: Get Mom, Dad or any trusted friend to babysit the kids while they sleep. Night-owl shoppers will find 70 doorbuster specials between 12 and 1 a.m., said company spokesman Bob Friedland.
Early risers, don't fret: Another 50 doorbusters will be up for grabs from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. The store will give a Crayola 64 box and an $18 coupon toward Crayola products with any purchase.
The toy chain keeps shoppers guessing from 12:01 to 1 a.m. with 100 "mysterious deals," which can be previewed at toysrus.com.
One of the "It" gifts this year, Friedland says, is Zhu Zhu Pets Hamsters (see picture, story Page 33) - and the first 100 people in line will receive a ticket to buy one. (Limit one per household.) There will be other chances throughout the day to receive tickets, Friedland said.
* Macy's Center City. Holiday hours: 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. today; 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. tomorrow; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
The Center City store will offer morning specials for early-bird shoppers and plenty more, said Macy's spokeswoman Elina Kazan. In addition to shopping, the store today will feature its holiday traditions - the Christmas Light Show, Dickens Village and Wanamaker Organ concerts. "We're the keeper of tradition, we're a destination store," Kazan said. "Who has these attractions? You spend a day doing shopping and you're being entertained at the same time."
The retail outlook for the upcoming holiday season is better than last year's, analysts say.
Sales are expected to increase by 1.6 percent, said Aaron Martin, a spokesman for ShopperTrak, a retail-analyst firm. That small uptick, retail observers say, is good news in this tough economy.
"There's pent-up demand - folks haven't really shopped for two years," said Kathy Grannis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation, the world's largest retail association. This year's won't be the best of retail seasons, she added, "but a positive is a positive."
On the negative side, retail foot traffic is expected to decline about 4 percent, but that's still better than last year's 15 percent drop, according to figures provided by ShopperTrak.
"Consumers are going to react to door-busting sales," Grannis said. "Folks will be going to the mall, but they're not going to all the stores."
Instead, customers will focus on a few select stores, she said.
Then, there are the social shoppers. They wake up between 4 and 6 a.m., then head to the mall with friends or family.
For these shoppers, Black Friday is a social activity with live music, crowds lining up to see Santa Claus and some great deals mixed in.
The Black Friday trend over the last two years is to "shop in teams, it's like a little party," said Gilson, with the PREIT malls.
Some groups of women wear matching T-shirts, or shop in their PJs and comfy slippers, she said.
More young men are taking part in Black Friday's early-morning hours, Gilson said. (That's why the mall began to offer Red Bull, she said.)
"There's an added value of the social atmosphere that you may not find on a typical shopping day," she said.