PARAMUS, N.J. — It’s Black Friday at the Garden State Plaza and one thing stands out for sure: New Jersey shoppers are as tough as they get.

While the mall was already busy at 10 a.m., several sales associates were concerned. The Gap priced all sweaters at $29, for savings of at least $10, but still one worker complained about the degree of purchasing. "It is pretty slow to last year," said the employee.

At other stores, the crowds were there too, but shoppers appeared predisposed to browsing, and betting on prices coming down even further as Christmas gets closer. As one Macy’s employee on the main floor observed, "It was more crowded last year. Black Friday is no longer the big shopping day."

Nearby discount stores, such as Wal-Mart in Saddle Brook, N.J. and Kohl’s in Paramus seemed the most crowded. Wal-Mart opened 6:00 a.m., and according to an employee, customers were there at the kickoff for deeply discounted items, like televisions sets. Because of the big crowd, "It was like we were giving away items," the employee said. Checkout lines at Kohl’s were also deep.

Specialty stores served up plenty of bait, like early bird price cuts, and drew big crowds, but again, shoppers weren’t always biting. Stores suffered from a lack of"must-have" items, though Bath & Body Works, Old Navy, Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister and Hot Topic were mobbed at the mall. The less promotional Talbots, Ann Taylor, Bebe and Rampage were nearly empty.

Limited stores offered a 15 percent discount on items purchased before 1 p.m. and an additional 70 percent off selected fall items. The lines at the registers dragged, and probably could have used a few more checkout clerks, even though there weren’t a ton of shoppers around the store. An employee there described the crowds as "normal busy."

At Express, the situation was similar. The chain offered a 15 percent early bird discount (before 1 p.m.) as well as a two-piece mix and match outfit for $59.50, and sweaters priced at $29.50, matching the Gap’s deal. On the other hand, Bath & Body Works, which had more gift sets and at lower prices compared with last year, had an abundance of shoppers. Limited, Express and BB&W are divisions of Limited Brands.American Eagle offered early birds 20 percent off items purchased by noon, and for night owls, 15 percent off after 6 p.m. The store, which had a decent crowd at about 11 a.m., had turtleneck ribbed sweaters on sale for $29.50 and graphic T-shirts priced at $15.50 each, when you bought two or more, or $19.50 for one.

Old Navy, Abercrombie & Fitch and Hot Topic were all jammed, in the aisles and at the registers, though none offered early discounts. At Hot Topic, shoppers grabbed its traditional black studded chains and vinyl skirts, while Ann Taylor’s 15 percent off the entire store, all day, didn’t seem to be much of a draw. In terms of promoting, A&F outdid the field, by placing a male catalog model at the entrance in boxer shorts. The ribbed sweaters on sale for $29.90 were also attractive.

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