Weather Updates

Turkey, gratitude sneaking into Black Thursday frenzy

Shoppers fill check-out lanes Kmart Montgomery Thursday November 22 2012. The store was open from 6 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Shoppers fill the check-out lanes at Kmart in Montgomery on Thursday, November 22, 2012. The store was open from 6 a.m. until 4 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, and reopened at 8 p.m. for Black Friday doorbuster sales. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

storyidforme: 40035750
tmspicid: 14961671
fileheaderid: 6817569
Blog: Black Friday Live
Video: Shoppers hit 'Black Friday' sales
Article Extras
Story Image

Updated: December 24, 2012 6:05AM

Eleven-year-old Isaiah Vizcarra is getting a surprise from his uncle this Thanksgiving.

“He stood in line with me starting at 3 p.m. Wednesday,” said his uncle, Jose Luis Del Bosque, who was waiting on a folding chair, first in line for Kmart’s 8 p.m. Thursday door buster sale, the second in a series of three the retailer is holding this weekend.

When the store opened at 6 a.m. there was mass confusion and managers questioned whether the 11-year-old was allowed to purchase the 32-inch TV he’d been saving his allowance for.

“So he didn’t get it,” said Del Bosque. “We talked to the manager, cleared everything up, and we were out waiting again for the sale this evening, and he got a stomach ache, so he went home. I’m going to pitch in a little extra and get him an even bigger TV at 8 p.m.”

As retailers have pushed Black Friday sales into Thursday night — and even Thursday morning and afternoon, prime time for turkey and giving thanks — nationally, families and consumers are torn.

Is Black Friday ruining Thanksgiving?

Still a family day

Black Friday refers to retailers turning a profit or being “in the black” for the year, which would occur from sales the day after Thanksgiving. It is also one of the very busiest shopping days of the year.

Many major retailers launched Black Friday on Thursday night, a move that drew complaints and petitions from retail workers, their families and others who want Thanksgiving to remain a holiday.

The Thursday “Black Friday” hours are not new this year, but rather a growing trend.

Kmart has a tradition of opening its doors to shoppers Thanksgiving Day, having done so for more than 20 years.

And for the Del Bosque family, the quest for televisions and other big-ticket items is still a family affair, just like carving the bird and saying grace.

“I said if everyone else kicks in a little more, I’ll save the spot in line,” said Del Bosque. In addition to a TV for Isaiah, the family’s real retail prize is a TV for Del Bosque’s father.

“His room is real small and he has just a real little 13-inch TV right now so we want to get him a bigger flat screen,” Del Bosque said. “He’s laid up and has limited mobility, so it will be a real joy for him.”

The rest of the family, he said, was headed out with a plate of turkey for him later in the afternoon. They planned to say a quick prayer and eat a meal there in line on the sidewalk.

‘The whole experience’

In 2010, Hoffman Estates-based Sears decided to join Kmart, its sister retailer, opening on the holiday for the first time in its history.

But a year later, it reassessed the 7 a.m. to noon Thanksgiving Day hours, and stayed closed until early the day after. A Sears spokesman said at the time, “Sears listened to customers who said they didn’t want to be forced to get up at midnight to get the best deals.”

But for some shoppers, Black Thursday Evening isn’t just about the bargains. It’s the whole experience.

“Our family would probably like me and my brothers home for Thanksgiving dinner,” said Julio Alvarez, of Aurora, whose tent has been second in line at the Best Buy in Oswego for most of the week, “But they know we love doing it. We like camping out, we’ve done it a few years now. It’s just fun.”

The Alvarez brothers, who also bring along friends each year, don’t shop for Christmas gifts, either for family or themselves.

“TVs, mostly, we get them really cheap here and resell them,” he said.

Last year, Alvarez said, they made more than $3,000 profit on their couple days of sidewalk camping.

The retail numbers

While the Alvarezes are sure to make a profit, that’s not such a good bet for the retailers themselves.

Experts say they 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.

That’s why Sara Lopez and her family were wandering the shrink-wrapped aisles of Walmart, on Route 59 in Naperville, around 4 p.m. Thursday. The store did not close at all Thursday, but reserved big-ticket and highly discounted items until sales started at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.

“We ate, and then we came here,” she said.

Around her, her children were examining pallets of toys and games, stacked high up and down the center aisles and on end-caps, shrinkwrapped with signs alerting customers to the times the items would be made available.

“You know, if we can get a good deal, and get most of our shopping done now, I think it is worth it,” Lopez said. “And we’re so full from turkey, maybe the walking around isn’t so bad either.”

Holiday pay

And nearly every employee missing out on their big dinner and football didn’t seem to mind it all that much, either.
“I’ve been working retail 27 years, and it’s what you signed up for,” said Chris, a manager at Kmart in Montgomery, who asked that her last name not be used. Her Thanksgiving shift started at 6 a.m. and didn’t end till 5 p.m., but she’d had fewer shift throughout the rest of the week leading up to the big shopping days.

“And we had a luncheon for the employees,” she said, “with turkey sandwiches.”

At Walmart, employees seemed similarly upbeat as they waited for the calm before the first sale event.

“I’ve never worked a Black Friday before, so I don’t really know what to expect,” said one Walmart employee. “But I really don’t mind being here. I wasn’t doing anything anyway.”

In fact, she said she had swamped shifts with a co-worker.

“She did have plans with her family for the day, so I took her shift,” she said. “She’s going to save me some leftovers. Plus it’s holiday pay, so you can’t beat that.”

First, give thanks

But for all the excitement and chaos of the Black Thursday-into-Friday sales frenzies, plenty of gift-givers are simply going to stay home — whether for family, turkey, to save money, or simply because of a distaste of crowds.

Online shopping is expected to show the biggest increases in sales this year. The National Retail Federation forecasts a 12 percent increase in online shopping, to $96 billion, and the International Council of Shopping Centers expects a 12.6 percent increase.

The federation says up to 147 million people plan to shop this holiday weekend, a 3.3 percent decrease from 152 million who planned to do so last year, but the average shopper is predicted to spend $749.51 on gifts, decor, greeting cards and other items, up 1.2 percent from last year.

But first, shoppers had to get through Thanksgiving.

Vikki Turner, of North Aurora, was second in line at K-Mart on Thursday afternoon, waiting for the advertised 32-inch flat-screen television, on sale for $288.

“I checked all over. It’s the best price in town,” Turner said.

She didn’t have plans for the holiday — though a neighbor did promise to make up a plate of turkey, green bean casserole and candied sweet potatoes for her — but all the time in line has given her a chance to enjoy Thanksgiving by giving her time to think.

“I’m thankful for my children, for a roof over my head, for having a job,” Turner said. “And I did say thank you to the employees today.”

Contributing: Sun-Times
business reporter Sandra Guy

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.