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Holiday shoppers get a head start
Stores hold Thanksgiving Day openings ahead of Black Friday
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    NEW YORK — Black Friday used to kick off the holiday shopping season, but now that day has taken a backseat to Thanksgiving Day. Still, retailers have settled into times that don't interfere with the turkey feast.
    After opening earlier and earlier on the holiday, this year, most of the more than a dozen major retailers like Macy's, Target and Kohl's are sticking with their 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. Thanksgiving openings.
    One big exception: J.C. Penney, which is opening two hours earlier at 3 p.m. on the holiday. Staples has reversed course and will close on the holiday. And sporting goods chain REI, which was always closed on Thanksgiving, is bowing out of Black Friday too.
    Still, stores aren't waiting around to push discounts on holiday goods until the official weekend. Increasingly, they've been discounting holiday merchandise earlier in the month. In fact, according to the National Retail Federation, the nation's largest retail trade group, nearly 60 percent of holiday shoppers have already started holiday shopping as of Nov. 10.
    That should take a bite out of the sales this weekend, though Black Friday should still rank either No. 1 or No. 2 in sales for the year.
    The National Retail Federation estimates about 135.8 million people will shop this weekend, compared with 133.7 million last year. The trade group expects about 30 million to shop on Thanksgiving, compared with 99.7 million on Black Friday.
    Overall, the group expects a 3.7 percent increase to $630.5 billion though the growth is much higher than the 10-year average of 2.5 percent.
    But grabbing those dollars will be tough. While overall economy has been improving, shoppers remain tight-fisted. Unemployment rate has settled into a healthy 5 percent rate, but shoppers still grapple with stagnant wages that are not keeping pace with rising costs for things like rent. Stores are also contending with an increasing shift to researching and buying online.
    In response, Wal-Mart and Target will be making all of the deals available later in the stores online Thanksgiving morning. New this year at Target: Shoppers who spend $75 or more on Friday will receive a 20 percent discount to use toward a future purchase on any day between Dec. 4 and Dec. 13.
    Saks Fifth Avenue pulled up its Black Friday sale to Wednesday to get a jump start to the holiday shopping season. Gerald Storch, CEO of Hudson's Bay Company, which also operates Lord & Taylor, said the deals at the stores are even more aggressive than last year and include a $75 gift card with a $150 in-store purchase.
    Storch told The Associated Press that the luxury chain considered, and then rejected, opening on Thanksgiving, but it still wanted to do something special for its customers.
    "It's a calm alternative to Black Friday," said Storch, referring to the Wednesday store sale.

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