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Published November 25, 2011, 10:53 AM

Black Friday shoppers in Dakotas see nice weather

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Shoppers in the Dakotas flocked to stores in unusually balmy weather on Friday, kicking off the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season with a flurry of spending, as businesses reported strong early sales.

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Shoppers in the Dakotas flocked to stores in unusually balmy weather on Friday, kicking off the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season with a flurry of spending, as businesses reported strong early sales.

Used to freezing Black Fridays that often include snow, shoppers this year shed their bulky winter clothes for sleeker outfits to hit the shop-lined streets and malls in search of bargains. Temperatures soared into the 60s and 70s in parts of the Dakotas on Wednesday and Thursday, and were expected to peak in the mid-50s on Friday — still unusually warm for the region.

"The weather's good," Celeste Breffle, a manager of the Best Buy store in Grand Forks, N.D., told KVLY-TV. "Shoppers just want to come out and do their shopping."

Breffle said she thinks the store will have a record-breaking season in sales. Many other retailers in the Dakotas shared that optimism, despite this year's costly flooding that affected cities and towns in both states.

South Dakota Retailers Association Executive Director Shawn Lyons told KCCR radio that an annual survey found the majority of retailers in that state expecting holiday sales to equal or better last year's.

Sales in North Dakota, where the economy has been strong for several years because of its booming oil patch, could eclipse last year's by up to 5 percent if the good weather holds between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Mike Rud, the head of the North Dakota Retail Association, told The Associated Press. That would be almost double the expected increase nationally.

"It's tough to predict because over the last three years we've had a pretty good (state) economy but we've ... had blizzards on just about every weekend leading up to Christmas," he said.

Rud said this year's major flooding along the Missouri, Souris and Red rivers might cut into holiday sales but it also might have the opposite effect, with flood-weary residents deciding to do something to lift their own spirits.

"Maybe they'll buy themselves something. Lord knows they deserve it," he said.

Lines at some early opening stores in the Dakotas began forming as early as Wednesday afternoon. Thirty-three-year-old Bobby Hohn spent Wednesday night camping outside of the Best Buy store in Sioux Falls, S.D., with a few dozen others. Family members held her place in line while she cooked a Thanksgiving turkey on Thursday.

"It's the fun, the enjoyment, the people," she said. "It's a lot of perseverance and dedication."

At the Empire Mall in Sioux Falls, thousands of people lined up before the midnight Thursday opening, and traffic was heavy — both foot and motorized.

"Traffic getting here on the interstate, with a lot of people weaving in and out of traffic, going a lot faster than the speed limit, (I) had three close calls just in the little distance I had to get here," shopper Kelly Hanson told KELO-TV.

West Acres Mall in Fargo, N.D., even drew shoppers from well north of the U.S.-Canada border. Franklin Sigurdson told KFGO radio that he and his wife drove 4½ hours from a town north of Winnipeg, Manitoba, to take advantage of the deals.

"Having a great time," he said.

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