Gobble-and-go: Stores are opening earlier than ever on Thanksgiving, offering deals ahead of Black Friday

11/26/2013 5:08 PM

11/26/2013 5:09 PM

Francisco Diaz is topping off his Thanksgiving with a twist this year: after a mid-afternoon meal with friends in Fort Lauderdale, he’ll pile his wife and two kids back in the car and head home to Doral — not to rest, mind you, but to do some serious shopping.

As the sun sets, they’ll be racing through Dolphin Mall, then trekking to Miami International Mall in their hunt for bargains, before calling it a night.

“We’ll hit the stores really quickly, and hopefully it won’t be as hectic as it would be on Friday,” said Diaz, 44.

For many, the days when Thanksgiving was a lazy, leisurely day off for feasting and TV-watching are gone. There’s no time for a second piece of pumpkin pie: there are deals to be had!

All over South Florida, malls and stores are opening earlier than ever on Thursday, turning Thanksgiving into a massive holiday shopping day, hours ahead of the traditional Black Friday rush.

Toys “R” Us is opening at 5 p.m., three hours earlier than last year, which was an hour earlier than the year before, which was an hour earlier than the year before that, which was two hours earlier than the year before that.

You get the drift.

“We moved it to 5 because we felt that was a time that people could have their Thanksgiving dinner, and if they will be out for Black Friday, it allows them to get a start at a good time and have their shopping wrapped up at 9 o’clock or 10 o’clock and be in bed at a normal time,” said Troy Rice, Toys “R” Us’s executive vice president for stores and services.

Toys “R” Us is offering more than 300 doorbusters over Thanksgiving and Black Friday, including 50 percent off such hot items as a Despicable Me 2 Dancing Minion Dave and a Skylanders SWAP Force Starter Pack, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

With an uptick in the economy, lower unemployment and tourists pouring into South Florida by the planeful, stores are bracing for a grateful Thanksgiving, retail-style.

The holiday season is a critical time for retailers, accounting for up to 40 percent of stores’ annual revenue. The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, expects an increase of 3.9 percent this year over last year, for a total of $602.1 billion in holiday sales.

Thanks to tourists, Florida retailers’ gains are expected to outpace those of the nation, with a 4.5 percent projected increase this year over last, according to the Florida Retail Federation.

Stores will kick off the season with cartloads of deals. Many already have been offering sales a week or more early.

E-commerce sites, including Paul Fredrick, Nine West, Sears, Kmart, Target and Old Navy, also have been blasting sales almost nonstop. Websites are expected to launch even more holiday discounts, often beginning as early as midnight Wednesday night.

For retail workers, early store openings mean they will have to clock in on the job, instead of enjoying the day with their families. That has led to a backlash from groups like Organization United for Respect (OUR) Walmart, which represents Walmart employees nationwide.

“I should be able to spend time with my family,” said Katie Cunningham, who has 17 grandchildren, and who works at the Walmart in Miami Gardens. “Instead, I have to work from 2 to 11 on Thanksgiving day.”

A Visa survey shows that 10 percent of consumers plan to shop on Thanksgiving, while 62 percent of those who said they would not shop that day said they are opposed to shopping on Thanksgiving.

You won’t find Diane Shoaf at any mall on Thanksgiving.

“I’m fortunate enough to have adult children and grandchildren and I still have my parents living, and you don’t take that for granted,” said Shoaf, 62, of Miami Shores. “When the family can be together, that is what you do is spend your time with family.”

She also feels badly for those who have to work, and wouldn’t want to be a contributor to that need.

“The parking lots are loaded, people get unpleasant, there are fights,” she said. “It flies in the face of what the season is all about: what we already have, not what we are going to get.”

Walmart won’t close at all on Thanksgiving. This year, the hottest deals will be offered at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. – compared to 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. last year, with 30 percent more doorbuster items this year, said Eddie Marciniak, store manager of the Walmart superstore in Doral, the company’s highest volume superstore. Another batch of deals will launch at 8 a.m. on Friday.

The Doral Walmart normally sees 16,000 customers a day, and is expecting as many as four times that on Thanksgiving, Marciniak said. They’ll be snatching up such deals as an Emerson 50-inch TV for $288, an iPad mini for $299 or an HP laptop for $178.

“We used to release them at 5 a.m. and people would wait all night in the store,” he said. “Now they can shop early, and shop for anything they want.”

Ray Villalobos, 31, is among those who plan to go to Walmart on Thursday. He will pick up the 6 p.m.deals with his family, then return home to eat Thanksgiving dinner at 8 p.m.

“It’s my first year actually doing this,” said Villalobos, a truck driver, who will be working on Friday. “There are good sales, and I would rather shop when I don’t have to work,” he said.

Some malls, including Sawgrass Mills and Dolphin Mall, as well as BrandsMart U.S.A will open at 6 p.m. on Thursday. Others, like Aventura Mall, Miami International Mall and Dadeland Mall, open at 8 p.m. Macy’s, Target, Sears. JCPenney, Kohl’ and Staples s are among the stores that will also open at 8 p.m.

Many malls and stores are staying open all the way through the night until 10 p.m. on Friday.

Others stores that will be open early on Thursday include Kmart, which opens at 6 a.m., and Navarro Pharmacies, which will be open at 8 a.m., with deals starting at 10 p.m.

Best Buy made the decision “to open at 6 p.m. and beat everybody to market,” said Frank Escobar, Best Buy’s district manager for Miami and Puerto Rico.

He is expecting 2,000 people in line by the time the Tropicaire Shopping Center store opens on Thursday, and it may take an hour for all of them to get in.

“You need some form of control or it wouldn’t be a good shopping experience,” Escobar said.

Big sellers are expected to be tablets, laptops and TVs, with deals like a 65-inch Samsung TV for $999 and a Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone, free with a two-year activation contract, he said.

Plenty of consumers have already gotten a head start on holiday shopping.

On Saturday at the Doral Walmart, shoppers from El Salvador, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Barbados and Trinidad mixed in with locals, filling their carts to the brim with toys, electronics and more.

Alvaro Garcia, of San Salvador, El Salvador, hauled a huge Barbie dreamhouse and other toys for his two daughters, ages six and almost two, figuring he would spend about $500.

“It’s cheaper here,” he said.

Jacinto Bermudez came with his family to scope out his prey, “helping Santa choose everything,” like a bicycle, dinosaurs and a Slinky for his two sons, 8 and 3. Bermudez expects to spend $500 on his kids, putting everything on layaway until Christmas.

“This is going to be more toys than last year,” said Bermudez, 43, of Miami. “I work in construction, and this year is better than last year.”

This article includes comments from the Public Insight Network, an online community of people who have agreed to share their opinions with the Miami Herald and WLRN. Become a source at MiamiHerald.com/insight.

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