GARDEN CITY - The holiday shopping season has officially begun, and thousands of Long Islanders hit the stores early today to take advantage of Black Friday bargains.

The Roosevelt Field Mall was buzzing with shoppers who were snapping up gifts for loved ones and, in some cases, for themselves. The mall opened its doors at 4 a.m. in hopes of luring in bargain-hunters.

One of the most zealous shoppers today was Mary Choudri, of Merrick, who has earned herself a reputation as a fierce bargain-hunter. Choudri says for two weeks, she'll scour the papers looking for deals, and then right after the Thanksgiving dinner, she hits the stores.

Managers at the Roosevelt Field Mall say they've noticed a definite uptick in shoppers this year compared to 2010, which could be attributed to deeper discounts.

Hofstra University business professor Barry Bender says with the economy still hurting, retailers will do whatever it takes to attract customers during the holiday season, which usually accounts for 40 percent of their sales.

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