Anna Szuba of Pasadena shopped on Thanksgiving last year -- two hours in line to get in the store and three hours in line to get out.
No thanks, she said. This year she started around midnight Friday and worked through her gift list among much smaller crowds.
Black Friday is drawing shoppers this year as always, but it's a far more sedate scene locally and nationally with the continuing rise of Thanksgiving sales.
Szuba appreciates it. She went to three stores after finishing a late shift at work, and by 5:30 a.m. at Toys R Us in Glen Burnie, she was about done.
"Pretty smooth, compared to last year," said Szuba, 32, a nurse.
Dante McGill, 18, waited until Friday to shop, too. He'd rather enjoy Thanksgiving than hit the stores. Shortly after 5 a.m., he was picking up gifts at Toys R Us in Glen Burnie with his sister and mother.
"This is actually not as wild as the other years," said the Woodlawn resident. "It's much calmer. The parking lots are much clearer."
Where holiday shopping once kicked off on Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving — each year the start times creep earlier and earlier as stores compete for shoppers' limited dollars.
Shoppers, in turn, never fail to show up for door-buster bargains and extreme sales, whether shopping for loved ones or for themselves. This year, Kmart was open at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, while many other stores opened in the evening, including Toys 'R' Us, Best Buy, Kohl's, Target, Walmart, JC Penney and Boscov's.
Tiffani Pringle of Randallstown took a break Friday morning at Arundel Mills in Hanover after more than 12 hours of shopping, sitting in one of the mall's massage chairs.
But she wasn't done yet. Twelve hours is nothing -- her Black Friday record is more than 24 straight.
"I am the ultimate Black Friday shopper," said Pringle, 41, a sales trainer.
Her finds included two 32-inch TVs for $98 apiece at Walmart Thursday night, one for her mother and one for her boyfriend. Not gifts -- they asked her to try to get the televisions because of her shopping expertise.
"They know I'll fight the crowds," she said.
For some shoppers, Black Friday is still the ultimate shopping day, regardless of this year's Thanksgiving night sales.
Michele Schmitt drove from Frederick to Columbia to meet her sister at 6 a.m. as she does every Black Friday.
At The Disney Store in the Mall in Columbia, she was relieved to get her hands on the last Spiderman Cycle toy, but frustrated because she really wanted two.
"I couldn't wait to get here," she said. "They sell out of stuff."
Also in Columbia, Gail Owens, her daughter, her niece and her friend had started at 11 p.m. Thursday at Walmart, and they weren't finished yet.
Owens was doing her own holiday shopping while also acting as personal shopper for her sister, who had sent her out with $500.
But as tired as they all were, they couldn't get used to the more laid back atmosphere of a Black Friday where most doorbuster deals were going on while the family was still eating Thanksgiving dinner.
"I didn't like this year," Owens said. "I like the hype.When I got to Walmart there was nobody there."
The federal worker said she' s getting better buys with this year's discounts, a good thing since she has "less money to work with."
"My family has a big problem with it. They have an issue because I leave early," Chojnowski said, trying to keep warm with a black blanket wrapped around her shoulders.
But the Thanksgiving Day sales were so good that Chojnowski was willing to risk the wrath of her family by slipping out of dinner at 3:30 p.m. to head to the store on Pulaski Highway, which opened at 4 p.m.
"My husband and I are working on a budget, and this is where we get the best deals," she said.
Chojnowski, a Head Start teacher from Overlea, has a son and a daughter. On Thursday, she was looking for Skylander toys for her son. Her daughter is into American Girl dolls, so Chojnowski is hoping to find a deal online Monday.
The National Retail Federation estimated that 140 million Americans planned to shop some time between Thursday and Sunday, with 33 million of them planning to shop on Thanksgiving Day.
This year was the first time that the National Retail Federation asked shoppers in its annual survey whether they'd be shopping on Thursday, which has now become the kickoff for a series of themed days aimed at getting people to spend money: Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday.
Some Baltimore-area Thanksgiving shoppers squeezed their retail outings in between turkey dinners with family and the nighttime Ravens-Steelers football game.
Steve McGill, a 31-year-old federal employee from Baltimore, figured the 6 p.m. opening time of Best Buy on Pulaski Highway would work well. He was hoping to buy cellphones for himself and his mother.
"I'm usually against lines, but within reason I'll do it," he said. "At least this will get me home in time for the game."
Kim Nickerson of Dundalk, a mother of two, sneaked out of her family's dinner to hit Toys 'R' Us.
"They actually don't know," Nickerson confided. "They were cleaning."
Nickerson was on the hunt for Skylanders toys and the Disney Infinity toy box — which normally sells for $75 and was half-price.
"Hopefully I can sneak back in," she said.
Others, including Susie Abuan and her family, planned to eat Thanksgiving turkey after shopping.
Abuan was in town from Allentown, Pa., for Thanksgiving and shopping with her sisters, Shirley Parana of Middle River and Sandra Parana of White Marsh. Well bundled up, they staked out the first spot in line at Toys 'R' Us at 10 a.m. — six hours before the store opened.
The sisters are big Black Friday shoppers and last year shopped at Walmart on Thanksgiving Day. They said their husbands are used to their hard-core shopping ways and are fine with it — "as long as we don't go over budget," Abuan said.
Some shoppers began their retail journeys well before anyone was thinking of turkey.
Margaret Patrick stopped at the Northwest Plaza Kmart in Baltimore, which opened at 6 a.m., for just one thing Thursday morning — syrup for the candied sweet potatoes she planned to take to her family's Thanksgiving dinner. But a quick stop in the store turned into a cart full of deals that were too good to pass up.
"As you can see, I got much more than syrup," the Gwynn Oak resident said in the frigid air outside the store, pushing a cart full of purchases.
Patrick, who just closed on a house, found great prices on towels, shower curtains, comforters and sheet sets. But she was missing one thing: "I still don't have the syrup," she said.
Kmart manager Mark Weatherby said the chain has been open on Thanksgiving "for years." This year, a line of about 100 people formed outside about 5 a.m., and the crowd was calm and friendly, he said. Weatherby passed out tickets for popular items, which guaranteed that people could get them. That way, they wouldn't have to rush to the back of the store when the doors opened.
"Believe it or not, people like the hype," he said. "They're in the mood to shop."
At the Pulaski Highway Best Buy, some in line clutched yellow "fast pass" fliers, which allowed them express checkouts in exchange for applying for a credit card.
Shoppers were let into the store in groups, though everyone in the line — which wrapped around the side of the building — was inside the store within 10 minutes of opening.
Once inside, tape on the floor guided customers to more lines for certain items, including TVs, cellphones and laptops.
Down the road at Toys 'R' Us, the store had a small army of employees in red shirts, directing shoppers to departments within the store or to checkout lines. Some hot sellers, such as Skylanders figures and Cra-Z-Loom bracelet kits were stationed right inside the entrance.
For Megan Graff, a produce manager from Middle River, the 4 p.m. opening of Toys 'R' Us was just the beginning of a whirlwind night of shopping with friends that would involve five stores and culminate at Under Armour Brand House in Harbor East at 6 a.m. Friday.
Graff was buying holiday gifts for her nieces and nephews, including gifts on behalf of her mom and brother.
The reason for the shopping marathon? "It's fun," she said.
Also in the marathon category was James Williams, a nurse from Baltimore who stayed awake for nearly 24 hours straight.
He worked an overnight shift, getting off at 7 a.m. Thursday morning and going straight to the Best Buy on Pulaski Highway to get the first spot in line for a Macbook Pro. The store didn't open until 6 p.m.
Williams is a veteran Thanksgiving weekend shopper, having gone out on Black Friday for at least 10 years. His parents used to join him, but not anymore.
"They're home eating," he said. "I'll get leftovers."