Fred Bass, co-owner of the Strand Bookstore, was afraid sales could dip this dismal holiday season, so he got proactive: keeping prices down, killing the bag check at the entrance, giving away free tote bags with $50 purchases and — in an admitted break with tradition — training employees to be polite.


“We’ve really emphasized it to the point of life or death,” he said.


The effort seems successful. “We’re a little ahead of last year,” he noted. “We’re doing a lot more to get there.”


The Retail Council of New York State found 53 percent of merchants surveyed were pleased with Black Friday sales even though shoppers were frugal; 58 percent said sales were flat or improved this year. The research firm Retail Metrics, however, said 75 percent of retailers fell short of November estimates.


“Our sales are about the same as last year,” said Roy Gil of Nirvanna Designs, who sells knitted hats at the Union Square, Columbus Square and Bryant Park holiday markets.

“More people are asking for discounts,” he said of Union Square shoppers. “I hate to admit it on the record, but we are giving it to them.”

At J&R electronics in Manhattan, Black Friday crowds beat last year’s, said Abe Brown. “People are very concerned about prices,” Brown said, adding they’re still buying flat-screen TVs.