A side of shopping with Thanksgiving dinner
By Mike Nolan firstname.lastname@example.org November 22, 2012 4:12PM
Updated: December 24, 2012 7:18AM
At some point Thursday, Jen Carpenter would join her extended family at her aunt’s house in Tinley Park for the traditional Thanksgiving Day dinner, then dash back over to Best Buy before midnight in search of a relatively cheap television and computer.
Sara Bellingham, too, planned to sit down for a meal with her family at her Orland Park home, but planned to return Thursday evening to Wal-Mart, where she was picking up last-minute items for Thanksgiving dinner, to take advantage of the retailer’s pre-Black Friday specials.
“Really, by the time dinner’s over and everybody’s been together for several hours, you kind of need a break,” she said.
For many Southland residents, Thanksgiving Day isn’t a sacrosanct day devoted exclusively to spending time with family, where holiday shopping — or at the very least the prepping for holiday shopping — is being shoehorned in with food and football.
While the day after Thanksgiving has long been viewed as the “official” start of the holiday shopping season, many major retailers have been launching Black Friday deals on Thursday night, a move that has drawn complaints and petitions from retail workers, their families and others.
While the Thursday Black Friday hours are nothing new, they are a growing trend. Target, for example, was opening its doors with special sales at 9 p.m. Thursday, while Wal-Mart had deals that kicked in at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day and other offers that carried over into Black Friday.
Since 1988, Wal-Mart stores have followed their regular Thursday operating hours on Thanksgiving Day, Sarah Spencer, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman said.
“We have always opened on Thanksgiving, our associates are always working (on that holiday), so this is not something that is new,” she said Thursday.
Kmart has a tradition of opening its doors to shoppers Thanksgiving Day, having done so for more than 20 years. Other retailers, such as Kohl’s and Best Buy, were opening at midnight Thursday with special offers.
Kevin Gavin and his friend, Kyle Roak, arrived at the Best Buy in Tinley Park at 9 a.m. Thursday to await the midnight opening, and there were already a dozen people camped out in line ahead of them.
“Last year we came at 9 a.m. and we were around the (back of the) building,” Gavin, 20, of Mokena, said.
Wearing a fairly thin jacket, he and Roak, also 20, had a 12-pack of Pepsi and a couple of family-size bags of Doritos to tide them over — their supplies reflecting their youth and inexperience in the rigors of a Black Friday camp-out.
A 17-year veteran of Black Friday, Tinley Park resident Gary Lemke arrived at Best Buy at 11 p.m. Wednesday, equipped with a tent he uses for ice fishing and gear including a portable generator and propane-fueled heater/stove combo. His son-in-law, Nick Ortberg, has been his companion the last three years.
“I haven’t had a Thanksgiving meal in years,” the truckdriver said. I’ve got a backpack full of MRE’s (meals ready to eat).”
He had three-cheese lasagna for breakfast Thursday, while lunch was a pouch of beef stroganoff and dinner would likely be beef and potatoes.
Those in the queue used a marker to write their spot — Lemke was third — on their hand so they could come and go, and before the store opened they’d be issued tickets by Best Buy based on their place in line. Lemke’s “neighbor,” Carpenter, was six, while her husband, Jeff, was five. The Frankfort couple arrived at 11:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Their children were with the rest of the family at her aunt’s house, but Carpenter said that, after Thanksgiving dinner, they’d return to Best Buy then “do some store hopping” in the wee hours of Friday morning. Although they haven’t gone out in the pre-dawn hours of Black Friday for three years, it used to be an annual tradition for her and her husband.
“It’s nice to be back,” she said. “You meet lots of nice people, and it’s a cool experience.”
Lemke and Carpenter said they wouldn’t likely get any solid sleep until sometime Friday, and Orland Park resident Andrew Schuster said he was also gearing up Thursday to “pull an all-nighter.”
He was at Wal-Mart in Orland Hills earlier in the day Thursday looking for gifts for his parents — “sweaters and stuff,” he said — and was planning to come back that evening for discounted Xbox games for himself and his brother. After that he was going to hit the Target across the street in Orland Park when it opened at 9 p.m.
“If I’m lucky, by the time the sun comes up Friday I’ll be pretty much done with all my shopping,” he said.
While he revels in the wait and the quest for great deals, Lemke acknowledged that the Black Friday creep into Thanksgiving has been both good and bad.
“Seventeen years ago, you used to be able to leave (your house) an hour or two before the store opened and get in line,” he said. “But it is a lot more policed now. It used to be they (a store) would open the doors and there was a stampede.”
Experts, remarking on the Black Friday creep, say retailers set their hours to please their customers, though it can be hard to measure the necessity of such an early start.
“The store has to make a cost-benefit analysis of whether it’s worth it to be open,” Morningstar Inc. retail analyst Paul Swinand said. But it can look “like you got incremental sales from being open that evening, but the question is would you have just made that sale the next week anyway?”
Most forecasters expect shoppers to spend more this Thanksgiving, but consumers’ moods are tough to read with the economy still uncertain.
Economist Michael Hicks, of Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., expects no growth in sales.
“Lower household incomes, a stagnant labor market and the lingering effects of Hurricane Sandy will make this a disappointing holiday season,” he said.
He thinks two exceptions will be furniture sales and big-box discount stores.
The National Retail Federation predicts overall holiday spending in November and December will jump 4.1 percent from last year, to $586.1 billion.
A Deloitte Consulting survey showed 47 percent of Chicagoans will buy only sale items and 31 percent will shop for those bargains on Black Friday.