Well before dawn tomorrow, seasoned sale-seekers will begin lining up at stores. They have scrutinized the newspaper ads and have plotted their strategy. Some have even canvassed stores ahead of time so they know exactly where to find what they want.
And when the stores open their doors Friday at 5 or 6 a.m., they'll make a mad dash for some of the best sales of the season that are offered only on the day after Thanksgiving.
For years, Cindy Tylec has driven 45 minutes from Middleport to the Buffalo suburbs to shop the day after Thanksgiving.
"You take your life into your hands," she said. "I went to Wal-Mart last year and people were knocking each other down for a $4.97 can opener."
But, she did score the last Xbox -- an item Wal-Mart deeply discounted last year.
The Friday after Thanksgiving and the Saturday before Christmas vie for the No. 1 slot as the busiest shopping days of the year, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.
And every store wants to be first on shoppers' lists. That's why JC Penney is opening a half hour earlier than the customary 6 a.m. this year.
"You look at what everybody else is doing and you want to be one of the first to open your doors," said John Anderson, manager of the JC Penney at the McKinley Mall. "If you get them first, the chances are you'll sell more merchandise to them. If you're second, third or fourth, they're not going to spend as much."
The Bon-Ton is opening a full hour earlier at 5 a.m.
It's selling an Apex portable DVD player with a 5-inch screen for $100. That price is available until noon, but the store will likely sell out much sooner and isn't issuing rain checks. The Bon-Ton's regular price is $300, and it's hard to find a sale price anywhere below $150.
Kaufmann's is wooing shoppers by giving $15 gift cards to the first 300 shoppers on both Friday and Saturday morning.
"Last year they were gone in five minutes," said Mark Mancuso, manager of the Kaufmann's at the McKinley Mall.
But there are tranquil times even during the madness of holiday shopping. And MasterCard knows when they happen based on the millions of sales it processes this time of year.
"One of the best days to shop is the Sunday after Thanksgiving," said Linda Locke, vice president at MasterCard International.
Mondays and Tuesdays are especially good and Wednesdays aren't bad. To avoid long lines and crowded parking lots on any day, shop before 10 a.m. or after 7 p.m.
The closer Christmas gets, the busier stores will get.
"Saturdays are the busiest days throughout December," Locke said. "Our absolute busiest hour of the year will be between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Procrastinators will have plenty of company."