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Shoppers flock to Black Friday sales; Despite Thursday offerings, some choose to keep Thanksgiving traditions

Janet and Jennifer Fix are Black Friday veterans.

"We used to come out early with our lawn chairs and everything," Jennifer Fix said.

But not this year.

With stores like Walmart, Target and Toys R Us launching their Black Friday deals on Thanksgiving evening, the Fixes decided not to shop on the holiday and instead hit the stores at 5:30 a.m. Friday.

"We didn't want to wait in line," Jennifer Fix said after buying wireless iPod speakers, children's games and other items at Target in Orchard Park.

The earlier opening times this year have shifted the shopping patterns on Black Friday, traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year.

This year, the rush to snap up deeply discounted doorbuster sales took place earlier than ever, beginning on Thanksgiving evening and continuing through midnight, when a second wave of major store openings began.

"I'm not sure that Black Friday really is all that meaningful anymore," said Arun Jain, a University at Buffalo marketing professor.

With the economy still fragile, retailers this year opened earlier than ever on Black Friday and offered many of their Black Friday deals online in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.

A survey by consulting firm Deloitte found that half of Americans already had started their Christmas shopping before Thanksgiving, and the National Retail Federation predicted that 147 million consumers would shop this weekend – about 5 million fewer than last year – as Black Friday shifts from being the kickoff of the shopping season to being a key part of a weeklong, or even monthlong build-up to the holidays.

And the shoppers on Friday were thankful that the rush occurred the night before.

"I can't do that craziness. Too many people," said Nicole VanEpps of the Town of Tonawanda, who said she arrived at the Boulevard Mall with her 10-year-old daughter, Taylor, at about 8 a.m. Friday.

"We did that Walmart thing before. It wasn't worth it," VanEpps said.

Forty-five businesses in the mall opened at midnight, according to a sign on the door.

"I don't go out with the crazy people" said Nancy Christiano, also of the Town of Tonawanda, who was mindful of store employees who had to work on the traditional family holiday. "I think people deserve to be home with their families," she said.

More than half of American consumers plan to shop during the holiday weekend, with about a third expected to hit the stores on Black Friday, according to a survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers, a retail trade group.

That left shoppers like the Fixes with relatively calm and uncrowded stores when they began their shopping day just before sunrise Friday.

Crowds at the McKinley Mall in Hamburg were moderate at 7 a.m. Friday, an hour that once was in the heart of the Black Friday shopping frenzy.

A little after 8 a.m., the Target store in Orchard Park had no lines at checkouts, and only a handful of shoppers were waiting to complete their purchases at the Kohl's store next door, where before midnight shoppers had waited in a line that stretched more than 100 yards to the end of the Regal Cinemas, said store manager Jeff Lentsch.

"With the midnight opening and other stores opening early, it's changed our traffic flow," Lentsch said early Friday morning.

"We reached a lull around 3 a.m. It completely quieted down. And now it's picking up again. Similar to last year, but a little bit different. I think some people definitely did their shopping last night. But other than that, it's been a typical Black Friday," he said.

"At midnight, there were lines at every door," said Roseann Gambino, the manager of the Macy's store in the Walden Galleria in Cheektowaga. "I would say there were a couple thousand people waiting to get in." "It was almost like you got one shift, and then a couple hours later you'd get a different audience," Gambino said Friday morning. "It seems like there was a customer that started at midnight and then there were the customers that started at 6 this morning. And I'm sure there are customers that will be here this afternoon."

By 9:30 a.m., crowds at the Galleria were growing once again, although the region's largest shopping center was far from jam-packed.

The promise of deep discounts also lured many shoppers across the border – often for overnight stays. Shopping on Thanksgiving wasn't an issue for them; Canadians celebrated the holiday Oct. 8.

Georgia Clarke of Pickering, Ont., said she hit the stores at 10:30 p.m. Thursday and would be returning home today. Even so, she believes Thanksgiving should be a family-centered holiday.
"Everyone deserves to be off with their family," Clarke said.

Kim Murray of Fort Erie, Ont., arrived at the Galleria around 7 a.m. and by midmorning had several bags full of gifts, from $12 men's dress shirts purchased at JCPenney to candles and items from Bath & Body Works.

"I've gotten pretty much everything that I wanted," she said, and the longest line she waited in was about 20 minutes at JCPenney.

"We purposely skipped the midnight openings so we didn't have to deal with people," Ashlee Miller of West Seneca said as she and her mother, Pam Spinder, took a break from their rounds to review their shopping list in the McKinley Mall food court a little before 7:30 a.m. "This has been less hectic, I think, because the other places opened so early. We didn't have to fight the crowds."

"The whole staggered Black Friday opening thing is obnoxious," said Spinder, who also lives in West Seneca. "Give the employees their holiday. There's nothing so important to open that early."

In Amherst, the Best Buy at 1585 Niagara Falls Blvd. opened at midnight. Friday morning, there were plenty of parking available, and the atmosphere inside the store was calm.

"I bought all my gifts already," said Barbara Krigstin of Buffalo, who left the store with a computer carrying case she bought for herself.

Did she do any shopping on Thanksgiving?

"I wouldn't come out," Krigstin said. "I still think Thanksgiving should be Thanksgiving."