As always, problems cropped up at some stores. One woman at a Walmart in California sprayed fellow shoppers with pepper spray, the Los Angeles Times reported. Shootings were reported outside stores in several states as robbers targeted bag-laden consumers. And at Westfield Annapolis, three patrons were escorted out of the mall after getting into a fight while at H&M.

But Black Friday went smoothly for most stores, though staffers had the huge task of preparing for the unknown of a midnight opening.

"We did not know what to expect, but we had hundreds of people come in," said Jain Trader, a vice president and store manager of Macy's at Towson Town Center. "We had great business for a couple of hours. Then it died down and we replenished" the shelves.

"We did this in response to what customers asked for — we gave them more time to shop," Trader added.

Target also opened stores at midnight. When Karin Reed and friend Lauren Bonsal lined up outside a Glen Burnie location at 8 p.m. Thursday, more than 80 people were already there.

At Best Buy in Timonium, the first shoppers lined up as early as 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving, said Matt Dawson, the store manager. The midnight rush of about a thousand shoppers had tapered off by the early morning hours. Limited-quantity $199 42-inch TVs were sold out about 45 minutes after the store opened.

"So far, so good," Dawson said. "There was a lot of excitement with customers being here at midnight and shopping. I guess it's easier for people to stay up late."

That's what focus groups told the Westfield Group, which decided to open its Annapolis mall and 14 other locations at midnight, said Patrick Madden, general manager of Westfield Annapolis.

This is the fourth midnight opening for Arundel Mills, which got an early start on early Black Friday starts. The Hanover mall passed out all 3,500 of its free T-shifts — "I came! I shopped! I saved!" — by 12:10 a.m., said Wendy Ellis, the mall's marketing director. She said the later lull in foot traffic, which many stores in the region were seeing by dawn, was typical with an early opening.

At the Target in Cockeysville, some 6 a.m. shoppers were positively disappointed to be in the calm after the storm.

"Last year was crazy — now it's so quiet," said Tracey Carpenter of Lutherville, who goes shopping every Black Friday with relatives. "I kind of like the chaos."

Other shoppers were delighted to give that a miss. Sandy Phung still shudders over her Black Friday experience at Walmart last year, when she arrived about 4 a.m.

"It was just horrible," said Phung, 20, a cafeteria cashier. "I got good deals … but people were pushing to get in the store and stepping on each other."

This year, she slept in until 7:30 or so before heading to Best Buy near the Inner Harbor. She managed to get one of the few remaining Samsung laptops, paying $299 and saving about $500. She figures she saved $50 more buying three pairs of shoes for her niece and nephew.

Ron Mara, general manager of that Best Buy, was feeling good Friday. More than 350 shoppers were lined up when his store opened at midnight.

"The line was eight times larger than last year," he said, noting that many of those shoppers were wearing Ravens jerseys and had come straight from the game.

At Towson Town Center, the crowds had picked up again by midmorning Friday. Drivers circled the multilevel parking garage looking for spots. Food court tables filled up with an early lunch crowd. And some customers were crossing the last items off their lists.

"This is the first time I've enjoyed my [Black Friday] shopping," said Jackie Horton of Towson, in line at the mall's American Eagle Outfitters store. "I'm finished and it's not even 10 o'clock."

Baltimore Sun reporters Eileen Ambrose and Susan Reimer contributed to this article.

jhopkins@baltsun.com

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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