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Thanksgiving hours help spread out Black Friday crowds
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Best Buy sales support staffer Titus Omar takes a home theater system to the front of the store Friday. Home theater systems and computer tablets were moving fast, said store General Manager Adam Dutton. “I still have enough product to last three or four days,” Dutton said. He said the line for Thursday’s afternoon sale stretched around the building. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Retailers are calling gray the new black after store hours on Thanksgiving diluted the frenzy of shoppers on the popular day-after shopping event.

“They’re calling Black Friday now Gray Friday,” said Kristen Boettcher, Marketing Director of Lakeshore Mall. “I’d say that when the stores open on Thanksgiving, it is definitely spreading out the shoppers.”

The day after Thanksgiving, christened Black Friday, is typically the biggest shopping day of the year. For a decade, it had been considered the official start of the holiday buying season. But in the past few years, retailers have pushed opening times earlier into Thanksgiving Day.

Warren Bee, a sales manager at Best Buy in Gainesville, said early opening times have changed the retail landscape.

“This is the first year. The game completely changed — it’s never been on Thanksgiving for us,” Bee said. “We announced early that we were going to be open at 6 p.m., and then everybody else followed suit.”

Other national retailers in Gainesville, including Target and Walmart, had full parking lots Thursday evening. The holiday openings came despite threatened protests from workers’ rights groups opposed to employees working on the holiday instead of spending the day with family.

Bee said while he initially had his own misgivings, the shopping experience for customers was less frantic and more fun.

“At first I was a little hesitant, but I really think people just enjoyed their Thanksgiving dinner then went out to shop instead of waiting in a line,” Bee said. “I think it made it into a little more casual of a holiday, rather than stampedes where people get hurt.”

Boettcher agreed that customers seemed to prefer the change.

“It seems to be the new trend, and customers are responding favorably,” she said.

In past years, Bee said, the line to Best Buy’s door exceeded 1,000 people.

“I usually I come in right before we open and there’s a line of 1,200 people outside,” he said. “This year it wasn’t that way, there was maybe 300 people outside — but then that never stopped, it lasted a lot longer.”

Several dozens of so-called “door buster” sale items were still available more than 12 hours after the store opened, although many of the more popular items — tablets and TVs, Bee said — were going fast.

“I have three of the iPad 2s left,” he said.

Bee said the lack of lines reflected a trend across the country.

“That was actually universal — that wasn’t just Georgia. Everywhere there were no lines. ... Some stores had lines but it was very, very rare,” he said. “I really think that 6 p.m. just absolutely changed the event, and again I think it made it more casual.”

At Lakeshore, the only department store to open on Thanksgiving last year was Sears, at 10 p.m.

“This year, we had a handful of stores that opened last night — all of our department stores — at 8 p.m.” Boettcher said. “And it was packed, there was hardly any parking. ... The rest of the mall opened at midnight and it was packed then, too. It calmed down early in the morning, 4 a.m, 5 a.m., and picked back up around 9 a.m.”

But many shoppers, and stores, stuck with the traditional lines of Friday morning, particularly small businesses, which also hope to get a boost on the American Express-sponsored “Small Business Saturday.”

Diana Cardenas was in line at 9:30 a.m. for Dress Up Boutique’s 10 a.m. opening. The most devoted of fashionistas had been in line at 8 a.m. for deals on scarves, sweaters and boots, she said.

“The line went two blocks by the time I got there,” Cardenas said.

The wait was worth her time, she said.

“I got two dresses, two sweaters, a pair of leggings and a maxi skirt,” she said.

Asked what other stores she planned to hit, Cardenas quickly shook her head.

“No, I did my shopping online,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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