With well over 500 people lined up outside the Fashion Fair JCPenney store – some them for hours – the manager led a countdown over the loudspeaker.
The doors opened at 2 p.m., kicking off one of the earliest and biggest Thanksgiving Day/Black Friday openings in the Valley.
Thousands of shoppers will hit the stores over the next few days, with many big-box retailers opening late afternoon or early evening Thursday. An estimated 69 percent of Americans – 164 million people – plan to shop or are considering shopping sometime between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, according to the National Retail Federation.
Inside the doors at JCPenney, store manager Leslie Egelston made her prediction: “They’ll go straight to boots.”
In minutes, the shoe department was mobbed. Specifically, the tables of Arizona brand knee-high boots on sale for $19.99 were targeted. They normally sell for $79.99.
Some were purchased as gifts. But many customers were buying for themselves, teetering on one foot to try on the boots while surrounded by crowds of people and stacks of shoe boxes.
Nancy Flores of Fresno had her arms full of boxes and a smile on her face.
“So far I’ve got two pairs and my aunt has three pairs,” she said. “We waited in line for an hour (before the opening) and I got what I wanted.”
Stacks of slow cookers, griddles and other discounted kitchen equipment also were quickly scooped up. Eighteen minutes after the doors opened the display of 1.5-liter deep fryers selling for $9.99 (after a $10 mail-in rebate) was gone.
For some people the sales are a chance to get good deals on Christmas presents. For others it’s a way to buy an expensive TV at a price you don’t see very often.
Juan Rodriguez of Fresno waited 2 1/2 hours in a massive line outside River Park’s Best Buy to get a TV. The 43-inch LG 4K Ultra HD smart TV cost him $279.99, which is $150 below the normal price.
The discount was worth it, he said.
“This is my first time so it’s pretty fun,” he said. “The experience is pretty cool.”
But he’s done with shopping for the night, heading straight back home to be with family, he said.
For other people, shopping on Thanksgiving is just a fun tradition. Connie Yang of Fresno showed up two hours before JCPenney opened to shop with friends.
“I do it every year,” she said. “I just like the deals they have. Everything is half off.”
Her family had their Thanksgiving dinner last weekend. Yang planned to shop at JCPenney, celebrate a second Thanksgiving at her sister’s place at 4 p.m. and then go back out to shop.
Although places such as JCPenney and Best Buy will be flooded with customers, the Black Friday hysteria of years past has faded.
There is no running or clawing for a TV anymore. Like most retailers, JCPenney hands out vouchers for hot-ticket items, eliminating the need for a rush of customers.
Shoppers interested in the most sought-after deals had their own line outside the store. They were waiting for a PlayStation 4 discounted by $100, or a 55-inch Samsung HD 4K smart TV marked down from $699 to $499. They were handed a voucher before the doors opened and had until midnight to pay for and pick up their items.
Many shoppers won’t brave the crowds at all this year, opting to buy from laptops at home. Some already have scored deals in the days before Thanksgiving as competing retailers offer them earlier and earlier.
The “Black Friday creep” that had stores opening earlier on Thanksgiving Day each year has mostly stalled. Now stores open at a variety of times, which thins out the crowds. JCPenney is among the earliest, with most of the big stores opening at 5 p.m. Target opens at 6 p.m. and Walmart also times its deals for 6 p.m. (most Walmart stores open far earlier, but offer deals later in the day).
Gone are the lines of people shivering in the dark for a 4 a.m. opening.
This year, shoppers enjoyed 74-degree weather. However many brought out sun umbrellas and used the store’s ads to shade their faces as the sun got low.
Despite the hype surrounding Thursday openings, just 20 percent of people planning to shop this weekend will shop on Thanksgiving Day.
Opposition to the commercialization of a holiday that used to be all about food and family continues to grow. Although store workers are paid overtime – sometimes double time – to work on Thanksgiving, many shoppers say they should be home with their families.
In response, many retailers with stores in the Valley have proclaimed they will be closed on Thanksgiving (though most of them have always stayed closed on the holiday).
Black Friday remains king of the busy weekend. About 70 percent of survey respondents who plan on shopping say they’ll shop Friday, after the turkey and family time is finished.
They may see some changes this year. Mainly, several places that used to be open all night from Thursday through Friday morning are closing for the wee hours of the morning. There’s just not enough shoppers during those hours to make it worthwhile to stay open for some retailers.
Both Target stores and Fashion Fair, for example, will be open from 6 p.m. Thursday to midnight this year, and will then reopen at 6 a.m. Friday.
For the third year in a row, REI is closing all its stores on Friday and paying its 12,000 workers for the day. The retailer encourages workers and shoppers to #optoutside and share their adventures with that hashtag.
Small Business Saturday, which encourages shoppers to buy from locally owned business, continues to grow. Many mom-and-pop shops from downtown Fresno to Old Town Clovis will be having specials and events that day.