Retailers used to open at dawn Friday, slashing prices so low on flat-screens that who could resist? Then, just a few years ago, it was suddenly midnight, a kind of slumber party of shopping. Last year, Black Friday crept stealthily into Thursday, as the biggest big-box stores threw open their doors at 10 p.m. And this year, stores facing the dual challenge of a slow economic recovery and the proliferation of new online shopping tools have boldly invited themselves into the dinner hour — 8 p.m. — mingling some of the oldest of American rituals: giving thanks, eating turkey and hunting bargains.
Michelle Vanaelst typically shops on Black Friday, but she came out a day early this year by Wal-Mart discounts on pillows and mattress toppers. Her family held Thanksgiving dinner early so she and her cousin could get to the store on time.
“It’s not the typical Black Friday,” Vanaelst said. “I like the way it always used to be.”
Shopping on Thanksgiving is here to stay, and though many people are unhappy about it, consumers have only themselves to blame, the stores say. Just as much as we want to watch football, gather with family and succumb to tryptophan on Thanksgiving, more and more, we want to shop.
Rhonda Thompson sent her 10-year-old son to spend Thanksgiving with his grandparents this year so she could get to Wal-Mart in time for the sale on the PlayStation 3. But when she arrived at 6:30 p.m., the line was already too long and she knew there wouldn’t be any left.
The earlier start times are frustrating, Thompson said. “I think it’s unfair and unjust. It’s infringing on your quality time with your family,” she said.
The scene outside Washington area malls and shopping centers largely confirmed retailers’ predictions that consumers were willing to give up a family dinner — or at least dessert — for a deep discount. By about 4 p.m. Thursday, there was a line of more than a dozen people outside the Best Buy in Columbia Heights, which wouldn’t open until midnight. Many sat on milk crates, while a security guard looked out for line jumpers.
Saeed Yazdi was coaxed out for his first Black Friday line by a friend who convinced him it was the best way to get a new Apple computer. The computer, he said, is not available online at the cheaper price he needs.
“I do what I have to do, and there is no other way,” Yazdi, 48, said as he began his eight-hour wait for the store to open. “They don’t sell it online or I would do that. I think they want to bring the people here and make them tired. It’s veiled punishment.”
Minutes before the doors opened at 8 p.m., the line at the Toys R Us in Columbia stretched more than 100 people deep past the end of the shopping center’s sidewalk with cars still pulling into the parking lot. A store employee doled out gift bags stuffed with $30 worth of toys to the first families in line, one of many perks the toy store offered to coax shoppers away from the dinner table.