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Shoppers head to stores on Thanksgiving to snag Black Friday deals

For Thanksgiving dinner, Clare Gains feasted on a bologna sandwich. Dave Wood had some crackers and beer.

Both had other things on their mind: Black Friday bargains.

The St. Petersburg residents were among about 300 people lined up outside the Toys "R" Us on Tyrone Boulevard on Thursday night. The store was one of several area retailers to open their doors on Thanksgiving rather than wait until early Friday morning.

Black Thursday? You bet.

Gains, 40, came to save about $30 on a LeapFrog LeapPad but wasn't thrilled about cutting into her holiday time.

"I'm not used to this. I'm used to Black Friday,'' she said. "It has messed up everybody's day. I think a lot of people are going to get angry. I almost didn't come.''

But she did, along with her best friend, Trisha Taylor, who didn't object to leaving her turkey dinner early to stand in line for some deals.

"With times the way they are, this is the only thing we can do,'' she said.

Besides, she kind of enjoyed it. Everyone was in a festive mood.

This year, more and more stores took the "why wait'' attitude and opened on Thursday to lengthen the long shopping weekend and, presumably, reap the rewards at the register. An estimated 147 million people are expected to shop Thanksgiving weekend, nearly half of all Americans.

Amber Galhouse arrived at Toys "R'' Us at 7:30 a.m. and was first in line. She and her sister Jenna Hauser left in the afternoon to have dinner, then brought a plate back to Galhouse's mother-in-law, Jill Galhouse, who happily ate on the sidewalk. It was the third year the trio had waited for the store to open.

"It's not that bad,'' said Amber, 27, of Largo, who planned to spend about $500 on toys for her three young children.

"It goes by fast if you're talking and having fun,'' said Hauser, 21.

The early start seemed less crowded than some shoppers expected, even though the line snaked around three sides of the building. Store employees handed out goody bags to the first 200 groups, distributed tickets for electronic items and told people where they could find items once they got into the store.

Michelle Haluska, 26, and Larry Bryant, 34, came with a three-page gift list — single spaced. Bryant cooked a turkey in the morning, got in line, then let Haluska go home for dinner while he waited in line. No matter, he said. His dinner al fresco was just as tasty.

"This has become a tradition for us,'' Haluska said. "I knew six months ago this day was coming.''

Interrupting a day of food and family seemed like no big deal for most people in line. Many said they eat Thanksgiving lunch instead of dinner, anyway. By nightfall they were ready to shop.

"We kind of came here by accident,'' said Karina Soto, 19, who came with her mother, Hilda Sepulveda. "We had nothing else planned today.''

At the Walmart at Interstate 275 and Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa, shoppers packed the store for waves of Black Friday deals that started at 8 p.m. Thursday. By 9 p.m. every parking spot was taken and all 21 checkout lanes were open. About two dozen people waited for the $399 iPad guaranteed to anyone in line between 10 and 11 p.m.

Next door, about 150 people waited for the Best Buy to open at midnight. Melissa Fitzwater, 29, her husband and two sons arrived on Saturday for a 40-inch TV, Samsung Galaxy 2 tablet, video games and other electronics. It's like a mini-camping trip for them. Every year they meet up with the same people. This marks their 10th year.

"We do it because we love the people here,'' she said. "We've seen everybody's kids grow up.''

The couple planned to spend $1,000 – proof that people will hit the stores anytime, even on a holiday.

Susan Thurston can be reached at sthurston@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3110.

Shoppers head to stores on Thanksgiving to snag Black Friday deals 11/22/12 [Last modified: Thursday, November 22, 2012 11:27pm]

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