Black Friday usurps holiday for some

Black Friday may be closer than you think.

The traditional starter’s pistol for the holiday shopping season isn’t what — or when — it used to be. It began with people lining up in the wee hours of the morning on the Friday after Thanksgiving for the doorbuster sales of a handful of national retailers. Others joined in; then the time began to creep earlier and earlier before landing at midnight, which is at least still technically on Friday.

But last year, Wal-Mart upped the ante by starting its first Black Friday sale at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving day, and this year it has sales at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Toys R Us and Kmart also kick off the sales season at 8 p.m., with Target following an hour later at 9 p.m.

Kmart even has a doorbuster sale at 6 a.m. Thursday, but stops short of promoting it as part of Black Friday in its sales circular.

Local reactions to the Black Friday creep are mixed, with some declaring “enough already” and others saying “bring it on.”

Sisters Kimberly and Christine Williams, both from Baton Rouge, are enthusiastic Black Friday shoppers, but say they are a little uneasy about its encroachment on a day meant for family and giving thanks.

“I think at some point you have to give time for family, and Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time for family,” said Kimberly Williams, an education consultant. “And the people who work in those stores deserve the opportunity to spend time with their families. The “stuff” will be there, but there are some things you can’t replace. You can’t replace time with family.”

The Williams sisters said the earliest they’ve gone out shopping is 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving, but they don’t see themselves doing anything much earlier.

“It gives people a real pause,” Kimberly Williams said. “At what point, as a society, are we going to focus on family and less about the material things we can purchase.”

But for Kim Gross, a teacher from Baton Rouge, it’s a matter of convenience.

Gross’ Thanksgiving weekend is all about hitting the sales that make holiday shopping more affordable. She and her friends head out to the store — last year it was Target, this year the Prairieville Wal-Mart — with a battle plan: one hits the computers, the other the televisions and a third the housewares.

“I’m cool with it being early,” she said. “It’s much better because I used to have to go to sleep for four or five hours … in my clothes, which is all of this warm-up stuff, then I’d throw on my big coat and I’m out in line at 2 o’clock in the morning. And it’s way more scary out in front of an empty building in the dark than it is when you get there (earlier).”

With Wal-Mart starting earlier, Gross thinks she might even be done by midnight and be able to go home and get some sleep before getting up to hit the malls at 7 a.m. Friday.

Besides, she said, “It’s fun. We go every year.”

Rob Woods, director of marketing for the Vancouver, B.C.-based blackfriday.com, a website that lets people access and organize information about Black Friday sales and promotions, said that while the trend has been building for the last couple of years, “this year has gone crazy.”

Woods said it’s not just the Thanksgiving evening sales of traditional Black Friday leaders like Wal-Mart, Target and Toys R Us. There is a slate of retailers that have joined the midnight time slot that was seen as pushing the envelope just a few years ago.

“We’re actually seeing a lot of negative feedback from customers,” he said, noting many feel the consumerism of holiday shopping is intruding on Thanksgiving.

“I think Black Friday is losing some of its specialness because of the conflict with Thanksgiving,” he said. “They’re blending into one event and, in many cases, they’re going to force people to choose.”

Woods noted many employees have complained about having to work on Thanksgiving, and there has been talk of protests. It’s worth noting that even though the Thanksgiving Day sales at Wal-Mart, for example, begin at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., the stores themselves are open all day.

The employees were on the minds of the Williams sisters, in particular.

“To do Black Friday shopping earlier, what are you saying to your employees?” Kimberly Williams said. “What’s more important, your profit, or their lives?”

Woods said it’s difficult to predict how much of a backlash there will be — people will, after all, still come out in droves — or how retailers will respond.

“This is really the first time this has happened, where it’s gotten away from them a little bit,” he said. “It’s really just going to depend on what happens at the till. If sales are strong, they’re going to disregard the customers and employees” who object, he said.

For some locals, however, Black Friday will simply be something other people do.

Karen Miller, a doctor from Baton Rouge, said the best deals are found online, and with a lot less hassle. She did Black Friday once, with a friend, and the allure was lost on her.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she said, using the phrase literally, not figuratively. “OK, I’ve done it. Check.”

Elizabeth Longman, a Baton Rouge Community College student from Baker, does shop on Black Friday, but won’t be lured into stores any earlier.

“We normally don’t go until 7 in the morning,” she said. “I just hit the stores that I personally like, and if there’s a sale, then there’s a sale.”

Thanksgiving, she said, “is a family holiday to me, so I would rather just sit and chill out, especially after a big meal.”