NEW YORK (AP) — After enjoying the Thanksgiving turkey, some Americans hit the shops for what retailers hope will be a new tradition to start the holiday shopping season.
Throngs of shoppers lined up at Macy's Herald Square in Manhattan for its 5 p.m. opening, looking for deals. The competition to grab customers first is keen, as J.C. Penney opened even earlier.
Marivec Caquias of Queens had no intention of shopping on Thanksgiving, but walked by the crowds outside Macy's and decided to stop. She picked up mini Clinique makeup kits for $10, and $15 perfume sets.
"It's manic. It's crazy, but it is fun," said Maria Elfes of Sydney, Australia. It was her seventh time in New York but her first time shopping on Thanksgiving.
Lots of stores are offering the same deals as in previous years, like $19.99 boots that remain a big attraction. For some shoppers, electronics at big discounts was the draw.
"Televisions, man, televisions. Beautiful big screens so I can watch sports," said William Junkin, a recently retired longshoreman shopping at Best Buy in Howell, New Jersey. "I'm hoping to buy two of them, and I saw they had some real good prices, so maybe I'll splurge on some other stuff as well. But don't tell my wife about the other stuff," he said with a smile.
As the start of the holiday season creeps ever earlier, retailers have been offering discounts on holiday merchandise since late October. The start used to be the day after Thanksgiving, but many mall operators and the big stores that anchor them are sticking with the earlier start. Macy's said 16,000 people lined up before the Manhattan opening.
Many workers complain that stores are putting profits over workers' time to be with their families, and some shoppers vow never to shop on the holiday.
At a Walmart in suburban Columbia, South Carolina, about 15 miles north of downtown, Tonjua Calhoun had studied the 36-page ad carefully and planned to buy a pressure cooker, some sheets, and a portable DVD player.
Calhoun, 52, is a regular shopper over the Thanksgiving holidays. She also planned to go to JC Penney and maybe Target before her night was over. But she wishes they were after Thanksgiving sales.
"I think they ought to give everyone a whole day with their families," Calhoun said. "It was a lot more fun when you woke up Friday, grabbed an early breakfast and went all day."
Some stores believe it's not worth opening on Thanksgiving since the sales are spread out. Consumer electronics chain hhgregg Inc. and the Mall of America in Minnesota are closed on Thanksgiving after opening on the holiday in the past.
While there's still some concern about how the fractious political environment may affect shoppers' behavior, store executives point to an improving economy and solid job market as reasons to be optimistic.
The National Retail Federation, the nation's largest retail group, expects holiday sales to rise 3.6 percent for November and December, better than the 3 percent growth seen for those months last year. That excludes car sales, gas and restaurant receipts but includes online spending and other non-store sales like catalog spending. The group estimates that non-store sales should rise 7 to 10 percent.
This weekend is crucial to set the tone for the season. Around 137 million people plan to or are considering doing their shopping during the Thanksgiving weekend, according to a survey conducted for the NRF. That includes online and store shopping. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, vies with the Saturday before Christmas as the busiest shopping day of the year.
Associated Press writers Bruce Shipkowski in Howell, New Jersey, and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.