Katerina Kelekolio, 26, of South Philadelphia finally had off for Thanksgiving. So she did what might come natural to many Americans: She hoped to bargain hunt.
She was one of thousands around the United States that camped out or stood in lines to take advantage of retailers' newest attempt to lure customers for the lucrative Christmas season. The lines were not as long as in the Black Friday crazes of years past - perhaps because many were instead choosing a turkey dinner in a warm home with family and friends. Or, maybe it was just too darn cold.
Kelekolio, a server at Champps Americana, arrived at 4 a.m. today at the Target on Mifflin Street in South Philadelphia to get a good spot for when it opens at 8 p.m. She did so because it is rare for her to be able to take advantage of Black Friday deals.
"Normally I have to work on Thanksgiving and Black Friday so I never make it out," Kelekolio said. "Since I had off this year, I figured I would come out here and try to get some good deals."
Actually, Kelekolio was there twice - and she was in line twice - alone.
"I came out here at 4 this morning and noticed no one was here," she explained. "So I waited for a little while but decided my body couldn't handle it. So I went home to get a few hours of sleep and came back out here around 9 a.m."
Some friends brought her coffee and will bring her food later.
"I'm out here for the good deals and to get a big TV for a good price," she said.
Meanwhile, in Spring House Township, Pa. - near Mechanicsburg, only two tents marked the places Wednesday afternoon where customers started lining up for the 6 p.m. Thanksgiving Day opening of Best Buy at Silver Spring Square. However, Rob Sheibley, of Carlisle, was confident many more would join them, reported the MCT news service.
"Every year when I've been here, it's always the whole way around the building and down the plaza," he said.
This year, Best Buy is one of a handful of retailers that have pushed up their opening times to 6 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. Also opening on the holiday are Old Navy, Walmart, Target, Kohl's, Kmart, Staples, Michaels, The Bon-Ton, Sears, Gap, Banana Republic, Toys R Us and Macy's.
Die-hard early arrivals typically arrive 20 to 24 hours ahead of the store's opening, Sheibley said, so he was surprised to see Victoria Hull, of Etters, already hanging out in the tent her family set up when he arrived almost 30 hours early. The family has been there since Tuesday, taking turns holding the space in line.
A veteran at the waiting game, Hull was staying warm with a heater, hot chocolate and strategically-placed tarps. Store management knows there are more tent-dwellers on the way.
"We do expect a relatively large turnout," said Tony Carlson, asset protection manager. Security is in place to keep the line safe, he said. Customers also tend to police the line on their own. The store also has procedures for bringing people in the store that keeps everything orderly and "prevents chaos." Snow showers and predicted high winds are no match for the bargain hunters.
"There's no way the weather will stop them," Carlson said. Hull and Sheibley both said the computers were a big draw this year. Sheibley added that the doorbusters are the big attractions for those waiting in line. If the store happens to have the Playstation 4 or Xbox One on the shelf, it will sell at regular prices.
Stores are hoping holiday shoppers will gobble their turkey on Thanksgiving, but save the pumpkin pie for later.
Such Thanksgiving openings come despite planned protests across the country from workers' groups that are against employees missing Thanksgiving meals at home with their families.
The holiday openings also are a break with tradition. The day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, 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 to outdo each other and vie for holiday dollars. 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 Thanksgiving will steal some of Black Friday's thunder, according to the Associated Press.
In fact, data shows that Thanksgiving openings last year took a bite out of Black Friday: 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 business 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.
But 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 Kohl's and Wal-Mart have already lowered their profit outlooks for the year.
Retailers' strategy is to lure shoppers in early and often, including on Thanksgiving. But the stores face challenges in doing that.