For true Black Friday warriors, Thanksgiving wasn't a day off, but a chance to prepare for battle.
Lots of people meander to the mall on the day after Thanksgiving just to see what the fuss is about. Others get up early, drive to the closest big-box store, grab the laptop they've been coveting and run back to bed.
But the truly devoted skip out on family dinners. They print maps of the floor plans of their favorite stores. They shop straight through the night, fueled either by caffeine or just the thrill of the almighty discount.
Those who are less fanatical about Black Friday would never dream of giving up their free time to go to one of the major stores like Macy's, Target and Best Buy when they opened for the first time at midnight or on Thanksgiving Day itself. But die-hard Black Friday shoppers pushed forward with elaborate shopping plans on Friday, the latest sign of just how far people will go to get a good deal in the weak economy.
Millie Ayala, 28, and her two sisters barely got a chance to finish up their Thanksgiving feast before they headed to the Toys "R'' Us in New York's Times Square to get in line at 5:30 p.m., more than three hours before the store's opening.
The three sisters carried printouts of the store's ads and went over their strategy: Each would take one floor.
"Finances have been tough — things are getting more expensive," said Ayala, a receptionist in New York. She has two daughters, ages 2 and 4, as well as nieces and nephews, and had saved about $220 for the shopping trip. "But with Black Friday, things are a lot more affordable."
Keith Harris, an IT consultant in Raleigh, N.C., also leaves his family dinner early on Thanksgiving to prepare for Black Friday. Just after 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving night, as he speeds his Ford pickup to the nearest Wal-Mart, he doesn't have time to wonder if Christmas has gotten over-commercialized.
"When Christmas comes and you're able to give more than expected because you saved money on certain items, it's a good feeling," says Harris, 38, who prints out maps of stores, scours ads weeks in advance and jokes that he wears sneakers on Black Friday because it's easier to run for sales.
Harris has been perfecting his Black Friday strategies for the past eight years. For instance, last year, he paid his 20-year-old son and two teenage nephews $25 apiece plus breakfast to stand in line for him. This year, he found a way to get free labor: He talked his cousin, Tonia Glasco, into wheeling an extra cart at Wal-Mart for him.
For Harris, the Black Friday bounty is worth it.
At Walmart on Thursday evening, Harris and Glasco grab shopping carts, consult Harris' map, and turn to the right down an aisle with telescopes and dolls. Harris is focused on his prey: a trampoline for his 8-year-old son, for $158, and a little convertible toy car for his 3-year-old daughter to drive, $99. He's not sure of their original prices, but he figures he saves at least 30 or 40 percent off retail every year, which is why he keeps coming.
Harris got the trampoline with no problem, but the car was a little more elusive. Another Black Friday warrior was sitting on a pile of four and told Harris he can have one after he helps her load a trampoline onto her cart. He seals the deal and gets the car.
Meanwhile, the really fervent among the Black Friday die-hards give up Thanksgiving altogether.
Lisette Rodriguez, 30, showed up at 9 p.m. Wednesday to stake out a spot in line at the Best Buy in Manhattan's Upper East Side, which opened at midnight on Thursday. She and three other relatives took turns holding their spot for 27 hours: Rodriguez slipped out to say hello to other family members at a Thanksgiving meal before returning to the line.
"It's worth it," said Rodriguez, who was hoping to buy a Sharp 42-inch TV for $199.99 for herself and a PlayStation 3 for her 12-year-old son. She'd been researching TVs online and hadn't found a better deal.
Emmanuel Merced, 27, and his brother Geovanni Lopez, 17, were a few spots ahead, at the very front of the Best Buy line, also with visions of TVs and PlayStation 3s.
Merced, an exterminator, wore several layers of clothing to keep out the cold. He could have just ordered his stuff online, but he said he likes the experience of camping out — even if it means pushing back Thanksgiving. He planned to observe the holiday as soon as he left Best Buy, in the early hours of Friday morning.