CHICAGO — Clarence Brown boarded a bus this morning and headed downtown to avoid the Black Friday onslaught of suburban stores.
No waiting in line. No standing in the freezing cold. Just in and out.
At Macy's on North State Street, Mr. Brown found just what he was looking for — an HP wireless printer that he had been wanting to get ever since he got a new computer earlier in the year.
"Most people go to the big malls and retail outlets in the suburbs, but I prefer to stay away from crowds," Mr Brown, 44. said.
From coast to coast, Black Friday started earlier than ever at many stores, with some complaining that it has morphed into more of a "Gray Thursday."
At stores such as Wal-Mart, Kmart, Toys 'R' Us and Sears, doors opened at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, and Target opened at 9 p.m. Other places, such as Macy's, Old Navy and Best Buy, opened at midnight. Employees in some of the stores have complained that it cuts into their Thanksgiving plans with family.
Some stores, like JC Penney (6 a.m.), H&M (5 a.m.) and the Disney Store (5 a.m.), opened at more traditional Black Friday hours.
At least one gave workers the day off with Gap opening at 9 a.m. on Saturday.
But even with the earlier hours, retailers may take a hit on sales this year as consumers fret about the economy. According to the National Retail Federation, there will be 5 million fewer shoppers this year for Black Friday, which is expected to translate into slower sales growth. Holiday sales could rise 4.1 percent to $586.1 billion, the NRF reported, but that's down from last year's growth rate of 5.6 percent.
Still, dedicated shoppers turned out early Friday. Some were looking for themselves, while others used it as an opportunity to buy Christmas gifts for their family.
Kris Lynch lives in Iowa but is spending Thanksgiving weekend with family in Chicago. She went downtown to find travel luggage for her daughter and son-in-law, who live here, to encourage them to visit more often.
Ms. Lynch said her daughter already comes out west about four times a year, but she can never have too many visits from her.
"They travel a lot, especially to our house," Ms. Lynch said. "So they need new luggage."
The ulterior motive? To see her new, 7-month-old granddaughter, Livi, more often.
"We love them, but we really love Livi," Ms. Lynch shared. "She's our new, little granddaughter. We definitely want the granddaughter to come out. So that's why we really want them. That would be wonderful."
The early-bird shopping paid off. Ms. Lynch found a suitcase at Macy's that usually costs $380 on sale for only $69.99. "This is a big deal, a really good deal," she said.
Jennifer Vazquez, 24, of Chicago, was on the hunt for good deals at Disney, Target and Old Navy. She found a Xbox LIVE subscription card for her boyfriend that was on sale for $10, down from the typical $25.
She also bought Halo, and was looking at pajamas for kids in the family that were half off at $8 at the Disney Store.
"They usually come on sale around this time," she said.
Meanwhile, Aurelio Garcia, 19, of Chicago, went shopping for both himself and Christmas gifts for others.
He hit Best Buy about 4:30 a.m., where he got a good deal on a wireless controller but paid more than he wanted to for NBA 2K13 at about $60.
"It was kind of expensive," he said. "I didn't get a good deal for that."
Later on, he went Christmas shopping, where he planned to buy his sister five CDs at Target, and was also looking at stuffed animals of Pooh Bear, Mickey Mouse and the Muppets for kids in the family at the Disney Store.
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