Some deal-hunters stood in line for hours, even days, to take advantage of early Black Friday bargains.
Others meandered through quiet shopping centers hoping to find an open store so they could get a head start on holiday shopping.
And, when they found something open, many simply wandered down aisle after aisle of specially tagged sales merchandise, on a hunt for whatever caught their eye.
Although they acknowledged their consumerism mindset on a day that's supposed to be about family and giving thanks, the people who turned out at retail centers across Orange County on Thursday said they hadn't forgotten about Thanksgiving entirely -- they fully intended to make time for family and friends.
"I saw cars outside, so I thought I'd stop in -- it's my only day off," said Dulce Jiminez, 23, as she walked out of Old Navy at the Village at Orange shopping center on Thursday morning. "Now I'm heading home to help with cooking." Old Navy and others welcomed regular business Thursday before Black Friday deals were unveiled.
Make no mistake about it -- Black Friday is creeping into Thanksgiving earlier and earlier every year. And customers are keeping pace with the earlier opening times.
Best Buy opened its doors this year six hours earlier than last year, at 6 p.m. Thursday. Old Navy began its Black Friday deals five hours earlier than last year, at 7 p.m. Thursday. And the world's largest retailer, Walmart, trotted out the first of its Black Friday deals at 6 p.m., two hours earlier than last year.
"It gives me one extra day," said teacher Valerie Martinez, 44, of Newport Beach, as she walked out of Kmart in Costa Mesa, which opened at 6 a.m. on Thursday, with $168 of toys for her classroom."I'm OK with that if it gives me more time."
About 150 deal-seekers waiting in line outside at the store's opening, said manager Aldolfo Lares.
Not a single employee among the store's 140 associates requested the day off, Lares added, and only two requested a morning shift.
"This is what retail is all about," said Paul Quan, a part-time employee in the electronics department at the Costa Mesa Kmart. "It's nice to have the store open because families get together and they want to get deals. Especially when they get what they want, they get to go home happy and enjoy Thanksgiving."
Some Black Friday shoppers invested multiple days into their quest for top bargains. But even they emphasized they were still finding ways to be with their families.
Black Friday pro Tommy Dinh and nine of his friends camped out in shifts in front of the Best Buy at Westminster Mall for three days waiting for the store's 6 p.m. opening on Thursday. Although they ate mostly fast food and slept in a tent on the sidewalk, Dinh said, he squeezed in a Thanksgiving meal with his family at home on Thursday afternoon.
Dinh said he also brought back a full spread of leftovers for his friends to enjoy on the sidewalk.
"I'm getting my family some stuff at Best Buy, so they wouldn't be too upset if I missed Thanksgiving," said Dinh, 22, of Long Beach. "It's what we've always done -- it's tradition."
For some shoppers struggling to make ends meet, the Black Friday sales without the Black Friday crowds were a godsend.
Rachel Branscom, 58, a cancer survivor, said she finished all of her Christmas shopping Thursday during a single trip to the Costa Mesa Kmart. She budgeted $300 for her entire family -- and walked away with two shopping carts full of gifts and stocking stuffers.
"I drove here with peace," said Branscom, a Laguna Niguel resident whose husband only recently got a job after years of unemployment. "I'm not spending exorbitantly -- I'm just grateful to be alive."
Some of the most die-hard Black Friday shoppers reported Thursday that, through some ingenuity, they hoped to break even or even make money.
Unemployed community college student Giang Vu, who was first in line at the Westminster Best Buy with about eight of his friends, said he hoped to take in about $200 from his four-day stint waiting in line.
Because Best Buy gives out merchandise vouchers for its hot-ticket, limited-quantity deals just before store opening, Vu said, he can usually sell the vouchers he doesn't want to people farther down the line. If he's lucky, he might pocket $10 per voucher, he said.
"It really depends on the line," said Vu, 25, of Anaheim. "The bigger the line gets, the greater the chances I have."
Even as shoppers streamed into stores Thursday, some said they felt a little uncomfortable that so many employees were working on Thanksgiving.
Laura Vo, who was finishing her Thanksgiving food shopping Thursday afternoon at a Walmart in northwestern Irvine, said she resisted the temptation to look at the Black Friday deals.
"It sucks for the people who have to work and should be home with their families," said Vo, 44, of Tustin, as she walked past temporary barricades erected outside the store to manage the expected Black Friday crowds. "The savings is great, but saving $10 or $20 is not worth fighting the crowds for."
Original headline: Early Black Friday finds grateful shoppers
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