Early-Bird Black Friday Shoppers Head to NYC Stores

Before some people opened their eyes, Black Friday was already well underway.

The traditional kickoff to the holiday shopping season has become a two-day affair, with more stores opening before people put down their turkey legs on Thanksgiving. There's good reason for the creep; businesses know shoppers will only spend so much, and they want the first crack at grabbing those holiday dollars.

Still, millions of Americans are expected to head out in search of steep discounts on Black Friday, the traditional start to the annual shopping binge. The National Retail Federation forecasts holiday sales will grow 4.1 percent to $616.9 billion — the highest increase since 2011.

The holiday shopping season is a make-or-break time for many retailers, which can get as much as 20 percent of their annual sales during the time. Already, retailers have resorted to steep discounting to lure shoppers.

In New York City, there were 500 people in line by the time a Target in East Harlem opened at 6 p.m. Thursday.

And 200 people rushed in at the Toys R Us in Times Square when it opened at 5 p.m.

For Macy's 6 p.m. opening, there were more than 15,000 shoppers outside its New York flagship store, a little more than last year.

Brian Cornell, who became Target's CEO in August and was at the East Harlem store on Thanksgiving, said shopping traditions have changed.

"It's been more of a week event," he told The Associated Press. After luring shoppers with big discounts on TVs, Razor scooters and other items, Target is hoping to lure back shoppers Friday with a 10 percent discount on gift cards, the first time it has cut gift card prices.

Mary Smalls, 40, was out trying to get all her shopping done on Thanksgiving because she wanted to avoid going out on Black Friday.

"I'm going to try to avoid the crowds," said Smalls, who plans to spend $300 to $400 on gifts this year.

Thanksgiving shopping has come a long way. Just a few years ago when a few stores started opened late on the holiday, the move was met with resistance from workers and shoppers who believed the day should be sacred.

But last year, more than dozen major retailers opened at some point on Thanksgiving evening. And this year, at least half of them — including Target, Macy's, Staples and J.C. Penney — opened earlier in the evening on the holiday.

Being first can lure shoppers like Raquila Wilkinson, 34, who arrived at the Target in New York at 2 a.m. — more than 15 hours before its 6 p.m. opening. She has been deal hunting on Thanksgiving for a few years now.

"It's a tradition," said Wilkinson. "I look forward to it."

On Wilkinson's shopping list? A 40-inch TV for $119, headphones for $97 and pajamas for $5.

Not every shopper is happy about stores opening on the holiday. A number of petitions have been circulating on change.org targeting Wal-Mart, Target and other retailers for opening their stores on Thanksgiving, or starting their sales that day. Most of Wal-Mart's stores already open around the clock.

Some Thanksgiving shoppers still felt a tinge of guilt even as they snagged deals on the holiday. "I think it's ridiculous stores open on Thanksgiving," said Reggie Thomas, 44, a director who bought a Sony sound bar for $349, about $100 off, at Best Buy in New York on Thanksgiving.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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