Shoppers already at the starting line for holiday bargains


Jonathan Simons, 15, exits his tent outside of Best Buy in Butler Plaza Tuesday, November 26, 2013. Simons said he, his mother Liz and brother Matthew, 16, not pictured, set up camp around 3 pm on Monday to be in line for when the store opens on Thanksgiving Day at 6 pm. He said he they didn't have the tent Monday night and awoke Tuesday morning with the tarp full of water hanging just a couple feet above him. He's looking to buy a Kindle Fire and a Dell laptop.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, November 27, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 27, 2013 at 6:34 p.m.

A dozen local shoppers interviewed by The Sun this week were unanimous: People should be home with their families on Thanksgiving Day, not shopping or working at stores.

Even the woman who started camping in line outside Best Buy with her two teenage boys Monday night said she'd be willing to wait a few more hours if it would mean workers could spend more time with their families.

"I hate doing it," said Liz Simons, 41, of Gainesville. "I say that I don't like them working, but on the other hand if I don't come, I'm not going to get my deals, you know what I mean? So it's a no-win situation because I really need the deals."

The Simons are among the 33 million people who plan to go shopping on Thursday, nearly 24 percent of the 140 million people who said they would shop Thursday through Sunday, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation.

Black Friday — so named because it is the traditional start of the holiday shopping season that helps put retailers' balance sheets in the black — is still expected to be the biggest day of the weekend, with about 97 million shoppers. But more people are expected to head out while still digesting their turkey on Thursday as more stores try to squeeze in extra sales times in response to the competition and consumer demand.

Belk, Best Buy, JCPenney, Kohl's and Macy's have joined Kmart, Sears, Target, Toys R Us and Walmart among major retailers opening on Thanksgiving Day this year. Many stores will be open all night and into late Friday.

"It certainly is something the customer is asking us to do," said Dan Mixson, store manager at Belk in The Oaks Mall.

"It's something that we do to keep up with the competition."

Sales have been positive so far heading into the weekend, he said, possibly as people get more of a jump with fewer shopping days before Christmas with Thanksgiving falling on the latest possible date.

Opening for 26 straight hours has made scheduling employees a challenge, Mixson said.

"It's not an ideal situation. We offered employees to sign up for one of four shifts of their choice. For the most part, we were able to honor that selection," he said.

Shoppers out early this week did not like the Thanksgiving hours.

"It's meant for giving thanks for everything God has given us during the year," said Bill Carlsen, 59, of Los Angeles as he loaded up an SUV outside the T.J. Maxx on Monday. "I don't know. It doesn't seem right."

Colleen Rogal of Gainesville, who declined to give her age, was more adamant as she left Bealls Outlet.

"Life has become all about money. No sacred holidays, no traditions. It's all money. When can we go out and spend — so it's really bothering my husband and I," she said.

Rogal said she might shop on Friday. "Things will still be there," she said.

The subject was even a topic of conversation during 17-year-old Ashton Mason's English class at Gainesville High School.

"We were talking about how commercialized we've become and Thanksgiving has lost its true meaning," she said in The Oaks Mall Monday.

One person who doesn't mind is Sabrina Jude, 21, of Gainesville, who works at Bath and Body Works in The Oaks Mall, where she will help open the store at midnight Thursday night.

"It's not as bad, but if we did open at 8, I'd still be working here because it's time-and-a-half," she said. "People are spending money, so it's good for the business, which gives us hours, which we want."

Her mother, Mary Anne Gonter, 53, of Inverness, did not agree.

"I think Thanksgiving Day is for being with your family," she said. "You should be home."

Jennifer Belew, 22, of Gainesville said she is "definitely against it" after her husband worked on Thanksgiving last year.

"It definitely put a damper on our Thanksgiving to have him work," she said.

Steve Kirn is executive director of the Miller Center for Retailing Education and Research at the University of Florida. He said it is the shoppers who are driving the holiday openings.

"It's often portrayed as this kind of conspiracy of retailers to somehow or other magically force us to do something, but it's not," he said. "What retailers do, they'll look at an opportunity. Try something. If it doesn't work, they'll walk away from it. If people show up and buy a bunch of stuff, then guess what? If you're the retailer, what are you going to do?"

Kirn said the Thanksgiving Day hours may work better for shoppers' schedules than the early-morning hours on Friday since they can go out after dinner and get home in time for a good night's sleep.

"The reality is that if people really don't like it, they have an incredibly powerful way of dealing with this. Stay home. Have another cup of coffee or a beer or whatever your preferred beverage is. Retailers will respond."

Back at Best Buy, Simons stood in the drizzling rain Tuesday afternoon while getting a jumpstart for the dead battery in the minivan in which she spent the night while her sons slept on sleeping bags under a tarp held up by shopping carts on the sidewalk nearby.

Simons said it was her seventh Black Friday and fourth spent camping out. She said the effort is worth it for the bargains.

In addition to Best Buy, she planned to send one of her children to Target for its Thanksgiving opening.

Her son Jonathan, 15, said they were planning to get a Dell laptop and a Kindle Fire HD tablet. He was first in line at Best Buy two years ago when he started camping out with an older brother on Monday night for an early Friday opening.

This year, they were beat by two men who started camping out Saturday night. The men left when it started to rain around 4 a.m. Tuesday, leaving behind a tent, but Simons said they would hold their place in line.

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