It took 10 minutes of circling the parking lot Thursday at the Boulevard Mall in Amherst to find a parking space anywhere near the JC Penney store, where hundreds of bargain hunters sifted through racks, cubbyholes and shelving, searching for deep discounts on clothes, boots. toys and household appliances.
The now-entrenched annual ritual of cutting short the normal Thanksgiving repast, or staving it off until one has had his or her fill of discounted consumer goods, was in full swing inside. Shoppers clogged the narrow arteries leading from lingerie to furniture and children's toys to accessories. It was, in fact, easier to navigate the crowded parking lot outside.
The mild confusion and the long lines at the checkout counter were only minor irritants to shoppers like Danielle Pattison of the City of Tonawanda who -- loaded down with a half-dozen huge bags at the end of it all -- was convinced she had made out like a bandit.
"For what I spent, I saved more than half of what I would have spent. So it was definitely worth it. Instead of spending $1,500, I spent $400 ," said Pattison, a mother of two, and on a budget.
It was her first foray into pre-Black Friday shopping, which she had avoided in the past, along with actual Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.
"I just don't trust the internet with my credit card or my bank card information," said Pattison, as she waited in one of the store's vestibules. "I'd rather come to a store. I can see what I'm buying and not get a mix-up in the mail, and then trying to return it."
Carol Cutler of Amherst, on the other hand, is a veteran of the Thanksgiving Thursday shopping ritual, along with Black Friday and dabbling a little in Cyber Monday's offerings. She doesn't shop alone, preferring to have her daughter, sister, a cousin and some friends along for the ride.
"We plan this every year. We eat early so that we can shop," said Cutler, as he waited out a long line to cash out, armed with several similar-looking tops in different pastel shades.
"You know what? We just like shopping together, even though I can do without the $5 shirts," she said. "Yeah. We shop all night and then we get breakfast in the morning."
Tom Vlachos of Amherst ditched an after dinner football game on TV to take his daughters, Carly 15, and Claire, 14, shopping for gifts to buy their friends.
"We've already eaten, and we figured we'd get out and check out the deals and fight the crowds," Vlachos said. "It's better than having them home, bored watching football."
Also no stranger to after-Thanksgiving meal shopping, Vlachos said he hadn't noticed any erosion in the numbers of in-store bargain hunters as online shopping picked up traction in recent years.
"It seems pretty crazy out here, doesn't it? I mean, this (parking) lot was pretty jam-packed when we got here," he said.
Even for those who were not celebrating Thanksgiving, like Steve Bujna of Hamilton, Ont., the annual holiday shopping crush is something that is not to be missed.
"Every year for the last eight years we come here to go shopping. The deals are amazing. Even with the (unfavorable) exchange (rate), it's worth our while it to come down here. My wife and I make a weekend out of it. We hit all the stores, different malls. I just carry the bags. She's got the list," Bujna said.