Shoppers flock to stores open on Thanksgiving

NEW YORK (AP) – Gobble down the turkey and save the pumpkin pie for later.

As more than a dozen major retailers from Target to Toys R Us open on Thanksgiving Day, shoppers across the country got a jump start on holiday shopping. The Thanksgiving openings come despite planned protests across the country from workers’ groups that are against employees missing Thanksgiving meals at home.

Tradition clearly did not deter local residents from heading out to the stores in search of holiday shopping deals. Wal-Mart in Lewistown was no exception, attracting a large crowd of shoppers Thursday night.

Elizabeth Albert, of Milroy, was one of the shoppers standing in line in the hope of getting discounts on some of the items she needed.

“It is my first time at one of these events. Right now I have been here for over an hour, just standing in line, and waiting to get my ticket so I can go get the item I want,” she said.

Hundreds of shoppers were lined up in different sections throughout the store, depending on what items they wished to purchase. Some, like Carol Troup, of Burnham, had been there for hours.

“I’ve been here at least three hours hoping to get some movies and clothes. It isn’t as crowded as it was last year,” she said.

Some, like Dwight Peachey, of Mifflintown, were forced to come and participate in the sales to please their families.

“My wife made me come. I’m the designated driver. She wanted to come and I came because I wanted peace at home,” he joked. “But, the sales are good and I do think it’s worth coming here on Thanksgiving.”

The holiday openings are a break with tradition. The day after Thanksgiving, called Black Friday, for a decade had been considered the official start to the holiday buying season. It’s also typically the biggest shopping day of the year.

But in the past few years, retailers have pushed opening times into Thanksgiving night. They’ve also pushed up discounting that used to be reserved for Black Friday into early November, which has led retail experts to question whether the Thanksgiving openings will steal some of Black Friday’s thunder.

In fact, Thanksgiving openings took a bite out of Black Friday sales last year: Sales on turkey day were $810 million last year, an increase of 55 percent from the previous year as more stores opened on the holiday, according to Chicago research firm ShopperTrak. But sales dropped 1.8 percent to $11.2 billion on Black Friday, though it still was the biggest shopping day last year.

“Black Friday is now Gray Friday,” said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consultancy. “It’s been pulled all the way to the beginning of November.”

Stores are trying to get shoppers to buy in an economy that’s still challenging. While the job and housing markets are improving, that hasn’t yet translated into sustained spending increases among most shoppers.

Overall, the National Retail Federation expects retail sales to be up 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion during the last two months of the year. That’s higher than last year’s 3.5 percent growth, but below the 6 percent pace seen before the recession.

Analysts expect sales to be generated at the expense of profits as retailers will likely have to do more discounting to get people into stores. More than two dozen stores including Wal-Mart and Kohl’s have already lowered their profit outlooks for the year.

The Thanksgiving openings are part of retailers’ holiday strategy of trying to lure shoppers in early and often during the holiday shopping season. But the stores face challenges in doing that.

Sentinel reporter Sarah Davis contributed to this article.