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Early-bird shoppers create new Thanksgiving tradition

Dylan Morales pouts while shopping Thursday with his father, Rigoberto, at Kmart on 34th Street in New York City. Millions of customers were expected to shop on Thanksgiving Day as many retailers remained open on a day traditionally reserved for spending time with family. (Associated Press)
Dylan Morales pouts while shopping Thursday with his father, Rigoberto, at Kmart on 34th Street in New York City. Millions of customers were expected to shop on Thanksgiving Day as many retailers remained open on a day traditionally reserved for spending time with family. (Associated Press)
Anne D’Innocenzio Associated Press

NEW YORK – Early-bird shoppers headed to stores on Thanksgiving in what’s becoming a new holiday tradition.

In the Chicago suburb of Naperville, Illinois, the parking lot of a Wal-Mart store was full roughly 30 minutes before Thanksgiving deals started at 6 p.m., including $199 iPad minis.

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

And 200 people rushed in at the Toys R Us in New York City’s Times Square when it opened at 5 p.m.

Thanksgiving shopping has come a long way. Just a few years ago when a few stores started opening 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 a 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.

Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak, which tracks data at 70,000 stores globally, is expecting a sales increase of 3 percent to 5 percent – with a total of $2.57 billion to $2.62 billion – on Thanksgiving. Last year’s figure grew twofold from the year before.

The National Retail Federation expects 25.6 million shoppers to take advantage of the Thanksgiving openings, down slightly from last year.

Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman at the retail trade group, said earlier promotions in the month and shoppers’ uncertainty about when they can get the best deals are factors that could lead to fewer shoppers coming out on the holiday.

Nevertheless, Thanksgiving is starting to take a bite out of Black Friday business. Indeed, sales dropped 13.2 percent to $9.74 billion on Black Friday last year. Analysts said Thanksgiving sales were in part responsible for the decline.

And Gerald Storch, who runs a retail consultancy called Storch Advisors, said stores that open on Thanksgiving get more of their share of sales for the four-day holiday weekend than others that open on Friday.

“That’s why they keep doing it,” he said. “You have to be first.”

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 are open around the clock.

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