For the first time in years, Michelle Nyberg probably will not be standing in line when stores open for their Black Friday sales.
She still loves a good deal — last year she spent a couple of thousand dollars on markdowns that day, the Friday after Thanksgiving — but Nyberg says that she does not want retailers to ruin the holiday for her or their own employees.
Nyberg is drawing the line now that major chains like Target, Macy's, Best Buy and Kohl's say they will open for the first time at midnight the night of Thanksgiving, and Wal-Mart will go even further, with a 10 p.m. Thanksgiving start for deals on some merchandise.
Retailers, eager to be the first to draw customers on one of the biggest shopping days of the year, are pulling the equivalent of the Republican primary shuffle by opening earlier and earlier than competitors.
Last year, a few stores, including Toys "R" Us, pushed into Thanksgiving.
But judging from the negative reaction among dedicated Friday after Thanksgiving shoppers on blogs, Twitter and Facebook, the wave of midnight openings this year has crossed a line.
Part of the objection is inconvenience. To be at or near the front of the line, shoppers say they will now have to leave home hours earlier — in the middle of the turkey dinner for some. But the wider objections reflect sentiments like those of the Occupy Wall Street movement, including a growing attention to the rights of workers and a wariness of decisions by big business.
Either way, many in the shop-till-you-drop crowd have had enough with Black Friday creep.
"I just don't think that's good business, in a sense, to make your employees come in on one of the biggest holidays of the year and cut their family time short," said Nyberg, 31, a saleswoman in Villa Rica, Ga., for a molecular biology company. "With the economy the way it is, no one's going to say, 'I'm not going to do that, I'm going to quit or get fired over it.' "
One retail executive sounded sad about the decision to open earlier. Brian Dunn, the chief executive of Best Buy, said that the midnight opening "became an operating imperative for us" after competitors moved their openings back. "I feel terrible," he said.
A handful of retailers are holding out, like J.C. Penney, which will open at its usual 4 a.m. on Friday. "We wanted to give our associates Thanksgiving Day to spend with their families," said Bill Gentner, senior vice president for marketing.
Still, some of the big retailers making the switch said that the response from workers and customers had been positive.
"There are many associates who would prefer to work this time as they appreciate the flexibility it affords their schedules for the holiday weekend," Holly Thomas, a Macy's spokeswoman, wrote in an email. A Target spokesman, Antoine LaFromboise, said that employees will get holiday pay for Thanksgiving work, and "we've heard from our guests that they are excited."
But even with increased pay, some workers said that the holiday hours were a raw deal.
Anthony Hardwick, 29, who works at a Target store in Omaha, Neb., said he would have to leave Thanksgiving dinner with his fiancee's family so he could sleep before starting a shift about 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving, followed on Friday by a shift at his other job, at OfficeMax.
Hardwick says he is glad to have a job, and does not mind the early hours on Friday, but "cutting into our holidays is just a step too far."
He added: "Even though it's a desperate time doesn't mean that we should trade all the ground that our fathers and our grandfathers, everyone that came before us, fought really hard for."
He has created an online petition urging Target to open at 5 a.m. Friday instead, which had attracted a handful of signatures as of Thursday.
The concern among customers about retail workers recalls an earlier era, when consumer advocates encouraged people to consider the impact of their shopping on sales clerks, said Lawrence B. Glickman, the chairman of the history department at the University of South Carolina.
In the late 19th century, as labor organizers pushed for eight-hour days and holidays off, consumer advocates told shoppers to "watch out for their complicity in the exploitation of workers through shopping" he said. That sentiment faded after the 1930s, he said, as consumer advocacy focused more on protecting shoppers.
For shoppers themselves — and the stores hoping to profit from them — the rush to midnight could have unintended consequences.
Last year, for instance, an adept shopper could be in the Toys "R" Us line for its 10 p.m. opening Thanksgiving Day, then line up at Walmart to get a wrist band at 2 a.m. that assured a place in line for its sales starting at 5. In between, the shopper could swing by Kohl's at 3, and Target or Macy's at 4, and perhaps finish with Best Buy after its 5 a.m. opening.
"This year, people are going to have to pick and choose what store they're going to leave behind," said Jennifer Carr, 30, a homemaker in Jonesboro, Ga. She regularly hits the Friday sales, but says she is reconsidering that this year.
Walmart said in a statement that "customers told us they would rather stay up late to shop than get up early." But like Carr, many dedicated Black Friday shoppers say they are rethinking shopping on that day altogether.
Jill Paffrath usually attacks the Friday sales at Target like a ninja. After Thanksgiving lunch, she, her four sisters and two sisters-in-law study the Target ads and make a list of presents they want to buy. After dinner and card games, they drive to the Target in southeast Lincoln, Neb., four hours before it opens, ask a relative to drop off coffee, and bring a DVD player so they can watch "Christmas Vacation" every year.
As much as she loves that ritual, Paffrath said, she may now skip it.
"Where can it go from here?" she said. "We really don't want to wait in line and miss Thanksgiving."