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Is Gray Thursday starting to eclipse Black Friday?

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Published:   |   Updated: November 28, 2013 at 09:00 AM

What do we even call “Black Friday” when Black Friday deals run all week? Is Thanksgiving Day now “Gray Thursday,” as some analysts now call it?

Whatever the term, the relentless drive of retailers to lure shoppers into spending more, and earlier, has taken over nearly all of November. In some places, Black Friday started the day after Halloween.

And even some small, independent shops are starting to go the route of Kmart, Macy's and others – and open their doors to shoppers just as some people are opening the door to the oven to shove in a turkey.

“From a retailer's point of view, if a competitor does it, you feel compelled to do it, too,” said Chris Christopher, a retail economist with HIS Global Insight. “Another thing is, e-commerce companies are always open, so retailers feel the competition.”

Most major retailers that had opened last year at midnight, 12:01 a.m. on Black Friday are now opening Thanksgiving night – or morning.

Kmart is so far leading the charge, opening at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving day, followed by Toys-R-Us at 5 p.m., BestBuy at 6 p.m. and then at 8 p.m. Macy's, Sears, JCPenney, Target and Kohl's.

Kmart stores have long been open on Thanksgiving, serving as a destination for holiday shopping and last minute entertaining needs, but this is the first year Kmart will be open from Thursday through 11 p.m. Black Friday.

Target moved its opening time to 8 p.m. Thanksgiving, an hour earlier than this year, to stay competitive.

“Black Friday is one of the most competitive days in the retail industry and we chose our hours to balance the needs of the business, team members and guests,” said Anne Christensen, Target spokeswoman.

“Last year Target stores opened 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, This year we elected to open one hour earlier to remain competitive and meet the needs of our guests,” she said.

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Shoppers will find various Thanksgiving Day schedules at the malls.

Certain stores will be open at Westfield Countryside in Clearwater on Thursday, among them Macy's, Sears and JCPenney, before the mall opens up at midnight. Bar Louie is scheduled to open for meals at 4 p.m.

“I think that Sears and a few others tried out Thanksgiving last year and were so successful that our shoppers (want) to shop early,” said Lauren Clark, marketing director at Westfield Countryside. “The stores have done their research and people don't mind working.

“And Thanksgiving Day is our busiest movie day,” she said. “People like to eat turkey and then go to a movie.”

All of the shops at International Plaza will be closed on Thanksgiving before opening on Black Friday at 7 a.m. However some restaurants will be open, including Pelagia Trattoria from 1 a.m. to 9 p.m., Champps Restaurant & Bar from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., The Capital Grille from noon until 9 p.m, and Bar Louis from 4 p.m. until 2.a.m.

“We give our holiday hours a lot of thought and make the decisions early in the year,” said Nina Mahoney, marketing and sponsorships director at International Plaza. “Some restaurants are open but no other stores.

“I got a thank you note from a woman that said she was thrilled the mall was not open Thanksgiving and hoped others would follow the example,” she said.

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The response from small, independent merchants to all this is mixed.

The upscale Magnolia home decorating and accessories store in Tampa has long hosted a holiday open house party on Friday evening the week before Thanksgiving. It's never been open on Thanksgiving day, and has no plans to change that, said owner Jeff Avery.

Partly, that's because the typical Magnolia shopper isn't the one who is camping out on the sidewalk at BestBuy all week, Avery said. But he has other reasons.

“My opinion is that all this is pushing into what I consider time for family and friends,” Avery said. “There's already so much time for people to shop, I'm not sure why it needs to start happening on Thanksgiving Day. We only have a handful of days we have off to spend with family anymore.”

Still, he understands some families enjoy the sport of shopping together on Black Friday, even if he has little interest in doing that himself.

The Florida Craftsmen Gallery in St. Petersburg has no plans to open on Thanksgiving Day, according to Executive Director Diane Shelly.

“Our message to the public is to be more thoughtful consumers,” she said. “Instead of running to the big box stores, try to think about buying locally, support small business … I wish everyone would take a breath, revel in the holiday, the simple things. But it gets so frenzied that you end up just being a mess.”

Still, the Gallery will open on Black Friday, with a 10-percent discount.

Matt Shapiro, however, wants to experiment this year, and he plans to open the doors to Shapiro's Gallery, his family's St. Petersburg art gallery, on late Thanksgiving afternoon.

“We're right here on Beach Drive, and a lot of people have family in town, and go for a walk after Thanksgiving dinner,” he said. “We want to give the customer a chance to come see us. Who knows, it's supposed to be nice weather, so people will be walking around.”

This did create a bit of a scheduling challenge, he said, so the plan is to make Thanksgiving dinner, eat, then at 6 p.m. Shapiro will head downtown and open the gallery.

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Physical retailers have reason to feel the heat from online competition.

Most major retailers have already started their Black Friday Week sales online. Amazon on Thursday announced plans to launch special Black Friday deals every 10 minutes all week long. Things like a Samsung 55-inch Smart HDTV for $1,297, 50-percent off Sponge Bob toys, 53 percent off popular books, and some DeWalt tools for 60 percent off.

So far, retailers reporting financial results for this autumn have posted mixed results.

The National Retail Federation is sticking by its forecast that holiday sales will be up 3.9 percent this year, while IHS had a lower forecast, 3.4 percent, and recently dropped it lower, to 3.2 percent. There's also evidence that some holiday spending is coming at the cost of other areas in people's lives. AAA recently forecast that the number of people driving for Thanksgiving to see family is higher than during the depths of the recession, but lower than last year – and cited a tight economy for the main reason.

Other retail reports show people who aggressively shop on Black Friday aren't even buying gifts. They're shopping for themselves, which turns inside out the entire purpose of holiday shopping.

As for what shoppers say, Jacquelin Agee of Tampa summed up one mindset. There's no way she goes shopping on Thanksgiving Day – for a host of reasons.

“I'll still be digesting all that turkey,” she said.

But she'll be resting up on Thanksgiving Day for other reasons, as well. She's scheduled to work at a mall calendar store – starting midnight 12:01 Black Friday morning.

“I guess it will be kind of fun,” Agee said. “People get crazy around three in the morning.”

Tribune reporter Ted Jackovics contributed to this report.

rmullins@tampatrib.com

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