Bargain-hunting is about to become the newest Thanksgiving tradition, along with turkey and cranberry sauce.
Across the Philadelphia region, malls from King of Prussia to Cherry Hill are opening on Thanksgiving for the first time ever, and they’ll do it hours before the traditional early-morning Black Friday bonanza. National retail chains like Target, Kmart, Best Buy and others will also open stores around the area on the holiday, some as early as 6 a.m.
Black Friday - when shoppers stormed the gates of WalMarts - could become less important as a cultural phenomenon. Other retailers are opening earlier than they have in the past. Though its causing a revolt among some consumers and workers who hold the day almost sacred, polls show others are game to rush out from the family dinner and head to the malls.
And for Jews, it will literally be a sacred day: Nov. 28 is the first day of Hanukkah.
The King of Prussia Mall -- one of the largest in the country -- and other area shopping centers run by Simon Property Group, including the Montgomery and Lehigh Valley malls, will open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. The sites opened at midnight last year.
“We want to meet the customers’ need for greater flexibility,” said Les Morris, a Simon Malls spokesman.
They’re not alone in moving Black Friday deals to Turkey Day.
Like the Simon sites, most Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust malls opened at midnight last year. But next week, stores at centers that include the Cherry Hill, Willow Grove Park, Plymouth Meeting, Moorestown and Exton Square malls will all be open to shoppers as early 7 or 8 p.m. Thursday.
Other sites have welcomed shoppers on Thanksgiving evening in the past, but have bumped up their opening times this year. Stores at Simon’s Philadelphia Premium Outlets in Limerick, Montgomery County, will open at 6 p.m., four hours ahead of last year’s 10 p.m. opening.
Target moved its opening time up an hour, from 9 p.m. to 8 p.m. At Toys ‘R’ Us stores, the 5 p.m. opening is three hours earlier than 2012’s, and the retailer’s website will offer online deals beginning at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.
When one store opens early, competitors are forced to follow suit, said Barbara Kahn, a marketing professor at Penn’s Wharton School of Business.
”It’s the kind of thing that’s too easy to copy,” she said.
For their part, the retailers say consumer demand is spurring the earlier openings.
“Every year we see a really great turnout to our stores on Thanksgiving night and Black Friday,” said Adrienne O’Hara, a spokeswoman for the Wayne, N.J.-based Toys ‘R’ Us. Many families come to the stores as a group, she said, and are “prepared to shop.”
Over the years, customers have shown a desire to hit the stores well before Black Friday officially begins, said Brian Rider, president and chief executive of the Pennsylvania Retailers’ Association.
“You have individuals starting to line up at 10 p.m. when the doors open at 12:01,” he said.
Stores may feel an extra push this year to begin sales early, Rider said, due to the shortened holiday shopping season. Thanksgiving comes on Nov. 28, the holiday’s latest date since 2002. That makes this year’s holiday shopping period -- when retailers can make up to 20 to 40 percent of their annual sales, according to the National Retail Federation -- several days shorter than normal.
Some shoppers appear eager to get an early start. Of those who plan to shop over Thanksgiving weekend, an NRF survey found, nearly 24 percent planned to do so on Turkey Day. A survey from the analytics firm Placed had similar results, with 22 percent of respondents planning to go shopping on Thanksgiving.
Not everyone is happy about the trend.
Numerous online petitions have been launched protesting the openings. A Facebook page, “Say No To Shopping on Thanksgiving” had more than 48,000 likes as of Thursday. On Change.org, there are at least 58 petitions, with a total of more than 188,000 signatures, protesting Thanksgiving store openings.
It’s the third year the petition website has seen postings about shopping on the holiday, according to spokeswoman Shareeza Bhola.
In past years, most Thanksgiving-shopping petitions pressed stores to remain closed on the holiday, Bhola said in an email. But this year, many petitioners are simply pleading for the stores to open as late as possible, to let workers spend more time with their families.
Anthony Rivera, who works at the Menlo Park Mall in Edison, N.J., posted a petition urging the mall to push back its opening from 8 p.m. Thursday to 2 a.m. Friday. Rivera said opening early Friday should satisfy customers and will let employees enjoy the holiday, too.
“You will have people who want to shop on Black Friday, really early,” he said. “It doesn’t have to have an impact on anyone’s Thanksgiving day, or dinner, or time with their families.”
But even as bricks-and-mortar stores increasingly compete with online retailers, crowds are likely to keep lining up for deals -- even on the holiday itself, said Kahn, the Wharton professor.
“After you finish that big meal, you want to go out and do something,” she said.