Hundreds of shoppers wait in a line that wraps around the back side of a Riverside… (Gina Ferazzi, Los Angeles…)
In a tradition that seems to take a bigger slice of Thanksgiving every year, hordes of deal-sniffing shoppers descended on Southland stores Thursday, elbowing their way in search of toys, video games and that time-honored Black Friday symbol: cut-rate television sets. As nightfall came, they huddled in long lines, clutching coupons and hatching shopping strategies.
Rebecca Abbott, 42, of Torrance had it down to a science Thursday night. The accountant said she was out the door of the local Toys R Us store in 20 minutes with a shopping cart full of Christmas gifts for her two daughters.
Her fourth time shopping on Black Friday, Abbott had spent a few hours in Toys R Us the day before scoping out her plan of attack. The first item on her list: a Rockstar Mickey Mouse doll, normally priced at $59.99 but selling for just $19.99.
"You have to have a strategy for this Black Friday madness," she said as she headed for the door. "First-timers will walk around all day looking at deals," Abbott said. "I got in, grabbed my stuff and got out." Her cart was overflowing with large toys — primarily Barbie and Mickey Mouse items.
PHOTOS: Black Friday shoppers hunt for deals
At a Wal-Mart in Panorama City, just after 8 p.m., "it was really crazy, but you could still walk," said Marya Huaman, 23, as she left the store with her dad, her two infant sons and three bags full of Fisher-Price toys.
"No, you couldn't," scoffed her father, Edward Huaman. "I didn't see anyone fighting, but they will be soon. This is madness."
Last year, Thanksgiving night was marred by a pepper spray "shopping rage" incident at a Wal-Mart in Porter Ranch that injured at least seven people and forced employees to evacuate part of the store. One person was hospitalized.
Los Angeles Police Cmdr. Andy Smith said Thursday that the night appeared to be running smoothly across Los Angeles. "In general, I think things have gone really well," he said. "It sounds like the stores have taken proper precautions and everyone is aware of the hazards of Black Friday."
After retailers last year moved the opening bell for Black Friday sales to midnight, this year there were even more customers eager to get a jump on the traditional kickoff to the holiday shopping season. Wal-Mart, Sears and Toys R Us began rolling out their door busters at 8 p.m. on Turkey Day, followed by Target at 9 p.m. Macy's, Kohl's and Best Buy were set to open at midnight.
A handful of chains such as Kmart and Old Navy also had daytime hours on Thursday. And online merchants were touting bargains all day and night.
About 147 million shoppers are expected this all-important holiday weekend, with more logging in for online specials by Cyber Monday, according to the National Retail Federation. In all, the trade group estimated that holidays sales will rise 4.1% this year, to $586 billion.
"Though the Black Friday tradition is here to stay, there's no question that it has changed in recent years," NRF Chief Executive Matthew Shay said in a statement.
Many shoppers were perfectly content to queue up. At Best Buy electronic stores across the Southland, people waited for hours — and sometimes days — in tents before the midnight opening.
But many workers were angry about spending Turkey Day away from loved ones.
Frustrated retail employees and families have taken to creating online petitions at Change.org to beg companies not to cut into Thanksgiving dinners. More than 20 online petitions have popped up in recent weeks. Lines grew throughout the afternoon and into the evening as anxious shoppers surveyed the competition in line.
Throughout Southern California there were reports of lines wrapped around stores. In Glendale, more than 750 shoppers were lined up outside the Target at the Galleria.
For shoppers who just couldn't wait until Thursday night — much less Black Friday — some retailers opened their doors all day on Thanksgiving.
The sales weren't quite as glorious as the Black Friday specials that stores promise to roll out later. But they were pretty good nonetheless, shoppers said.
JoAnne Garcia walked into Kmart in Burbank in search of a roasting pan in which to cook her turkey. She walked out 90 minutes later, having shelled out $491, including $329 for an RCA 39-inch LCD flat-panel TV.
"The roasting pan was $14.99," Garcia said, laughing at how much she spent as she rolled her cart to the parking lot.
To the 53-year-old aerospace machinist, shopping on Thanksgiving made perfect sense.
Standing near a store display touting "Freak Out Pricing," Garcia explained her theory about shopping while cooking. "You get up, throw your turkey in the oven, and you come back and it's all done."
Contributing to this report were staff writers Wesley Lowery, Marisa Gerber, Nicole Santa Cruz and Andrew Khouri.