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Some can’t wait for Black Friday to shop

Melissa Mathias (right) loads toys into a shopping bag with the help of Elizabeth Ellenwood while shopping in the Central Park Kohl’s on Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013. The two joined the crowds to take advantage of Thanksgiving day holiday sales. (PETER CIHELKA / THE FREE LANCE-STAR)

Angie Hunter stood in the department store, sorting through the housewares and clothes in her cart, and lamented the fact that she was shopping on Thanksgiving night.

“I think the competition [between stores] is driving people to get out and away from their dinner tables,” said Hunter, who lives in Washington. “It’s almost unethical to participate, but if you don’t, you’re left out.”

“If you snooze, you lose,” chimed in her mother, Marie Burnette of Fredericksburg.

Other shoppers, who went over the river and through the woods to department-store sales, said the same.

They’re not thrilled to trade tradition for a door-buster deal with all the trimmings, but said they had no choice if they wanted to save money.

“It’s the deals, the deals,” said Vivian Hendrick of Orange County who stood in line outside Kohl’s in Central Park to get into the store, just like the mother–daughter team of Hunter and Burnette.

Latoya Ball–Tate left the comfort of her Westmoreland County home for the same reason. She hit Toys R Us at 5 p.m., three hours before department and electronics stores opened at Central Park, Spotsylvania Towne Center and at other shopping centers in the region.

Ball–Tate hoped the early opening at the toy store would mean fewer customers searching for the half-priced video games she wanted.

Instead, she found a line that snaked around the building and people who had waited in the cold for an hour and a half. Security guards with guns at their sides made sure shoppers minded their manners.

Nena Foster of Fort Lee took one look at the line, said “Hell, no,” and got back in her vehicle. She said she’d order whatever she wanted online.

Like big retail outlets across the country, stores in the Fredericksburg region got an early jump on holiday shopping by bringing out red-ticket items earlier than ever before.

Shopping on Thanksgiving has become so prevalent, there’s even a name for it: Gray Thursday. Last year, cash registers rang up $800 million in sales on Thanksgiving, according to ShopperTrak, a Chicago-based research firm.

But those numbers are just a drop in the gravy boat compared to Black Friday, which totaled sales of $11.2 billion in 2012.

Locally, Michael’s craft store opened at 4 p.m. and Toys R Us at 5 p.m. Big Lots, off State Route 3, welcomed shoppers at 7 a.m. Thanksgiving morning, and “it was insane,” said Jessica Schulz, the store’s associate manager. “We sold like 40-some recliners.”

Advertised items, such as the comfortable chairs, drew people in, but customers also shopped for roasting pans, spices and cranberry relish, Schulz said.

And Christmas items. In stores throughout the region, artificial trees and evergreen garland, light sets and ornaments filled up carts, along with big-screen TVs and appliances.

Several shoppers bemoaned the fact the early sales made them tamper with tradition. Christina Hawkins of Stafford County walked at a fast clip as she left Michael’s with a cart full of craft supplies.

“Walk with me,” she said, when asked about her holiday shopping patterns.

She served Thanksgiving dinner at noon for one reason.

“I did specifically plan it this way this year because of the sales, and that’s an unfortunate thing to say,” she said. “But if you don’t come when the store opens, you don’t get it, especially if it’s a door-buster or something for kids.”

Other shoppers enjoyed the early sales for different reasons.

Katrina Riggleman of Spotsylvania County enjoyed the leisurely pace of shopping on Thanksgiving afternoon. It’s become a new tradition for her family to eat out, then search for craft and baking supplies which they’ll use all weekend.

Her mother, Karen Anderson, visits from West Virginia, and Riggleman’s daughter, 11-year-old Kaitlyn, benefits from a multigenerational gathering.

“It’s part of our together time,” the grandmother said.

Shopping was the perfect break between dinner and dessert for Nikki Swanigan of Woodbridge. After her Thanksgiving meal, she loaded up the family and headed to Fredericksburg. She hit Toys R Us a few minutes after it opened, and the items she wanted already were gone. So, she headed next to Kmart, where she and her mother, Sharon Thompson of Arkansas, looked for other presents while the children waited in the car.

“We ate early so we could shop some, work off the food and go home and eat some more,” Swanigan said, adding dessert would be “a second meal.”

“A proper buffet,” her mother added.

Later in the evening, the leisurely pace of earlier in the day disappeared like that last piece of pumpkin pie. All 27 checkout lines at the Walmart in Central Park were open with several people in line. Likewise at Kohl’s: Lines to pay for purchases quickly became as long as the lines had been to get into the store.

It looked like Christmas Eve, except it was Thanksgiving.

Hunter, the shopper from Washington, bragged about the great deal she got on a Cuisinart blender, then chastised herself for desecrating a holiday.

“It’s the only American holiday, that isn’t religion-based, where we all sit around a table,” Hunter said. “Clearly I’m conflicted, but I’m still here. I’ll probably need therapy for this.”

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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