Chicago shoppers get a head start on Black Friday

Shoppers at Macy's at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg look though boots on Thursday evening. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune)

As his family prepared to gather at grandma's house, Cameron Ligocki arrived at a Best Buy in Downers Grove at noon on Thanksgiving Day -- six hours before it opened -- to buy a 39-inch Insignia TV for $169.

His family "got a little mad" about him missing much of the day's festivities, "but it was fine in the end," said the 17-year-old high school student, who was waiting with a friend who had his eyes on the same deal. "I need a TV for my room, and that's a cheap price for a nice one."

Later Thursday night, the high school junior from Lombard planned to go to Kohl's with buddy Ryan Wakely to shop for jeans and shirts.

"I'm a first timer," Ligocki said of visiting stores on Thanksgiving Day. He said, however, that he wished that the stores wouldn't open so early because it interferes with dinner. But the deal on the TV -- which his grandmother is buying for him as a Christmas gift -- was too good to pass up.

That's just what retailers were betting on, with Thanksgiving Day shopping increasingly becoming -- dare we say -- a tradition, leapfrogging Black Friday as the start of the holiday buying season.

In 2010, a smattering of retail chains began opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day. But their ranks have grown  this year to include Macy's and JCPenney. Also, the original pioneers are greeting shoppers increasingly earlier in the day.
Toys R Us typifies the creep in Turkey Day shopping.  From opening at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day in 2010, it moved up the opening to 8 p.m. last year to  5 p.m. this year. Retail analysts said merchants are opening ever earlier to beat out rivals. Retail groups also say they"re responding to consumers" preferences. 

The National Retail Federation said of those intending to shop on the four-day weekend, 24 percent plan to do so on Thanksgiving Day. That represents 33 million shoppers, though the trade group concedes that people spending a few minutes online on Thanksgiving Day are included in those numbers.

Among those considering or planning to shop during the four-day weekend, consumers ages 25 to 34 are most likely to shop on Thanksgiving Day, the NRF said.  Nearly 28 percent of consumers ages 18 to 24 with Thanksgiving weekend shopping plans say they might also do so on the holiday itself. But no age group is immune from the lure of a Thanksgiving Day shopping opportunity.

Lindsey Tortorello, 53, and her sister, Donna Walsh, 49, left their Humbolt Park home Thursday to hit a Kmart that opened early.

Tortorello held a manilla folder with handwritten lists and sales circulars.

"Usually, we'd have a house full of people and be slaving away in the kitchen, and before you know it, it's time to eat and clean it all up again," she said. "We're treating ourselves to a little rarity this year."

The Kmart at 1360 N. Ashland was the first stop of the day. They planned to hit Carson Pirie Scott and later Walmart for a TV.

"We might not even put the turkey in," Tortorello joked.

Thursday was the first time in 15 years the sisters had braved Thanksgiving weekend crowds. Tortorello said this was the year she felt freer to break from her family during the holiday weekend, as all of her children are young adults -- ages 23, 20, 17 and 15.

The two also said they're budgeting more these days. Walsh is injured and can't work at her waitressing and bartending job. Tortorello said she is on a fixed income.

Indeed, the new Thanksgiving Day opening phenomenon coincides with many consumers' psyches being rattled by U.S. economic conditions.

In the 14th annual holiday spending survey by the Consumer Federation of America and the Credit Union National Association, respondents were asked if "recent controversies over federal government spending and borrowing" had restrained their holiday spending plans. About half, or 51 percent, said they had, with 18 percent saying "very much." Still, the survey found reasons for optimism.

The percentage who said they’d spend more than in the prior year rose from 12 to 13, while the percentage saying they’d spend less fell from 38 to 32.