On a holiday morning that in bygone years meant deserted mall parking lots, crack-of-dawn consumers lugged packages to their cars and wrestled flat-screen TVs into minivans shortly after the department store's opening at 7 a.m. By nightfall, a crowd of several hundred people anxious to get their hands on discounted HDTVs and appliances rushed into the Sears at Security Square when the doors opened at 8.
Black Friday, widely thought to be the day when retailers' figures moved out of the red and into the black for the year, is increasingly creeping into Thursday, and some say the trend is here to stay.
Shoppers at Sears experienced the highs and lows of sacrificing part of their holiday in order to get a good deal.
"It was worth it," said Danny Mills, a high school student from Limerick, Pa., who had waited in line with his uncle since 8 a.m. to get one of the five 50-inch televisions that Sears was selling for $299. "I got a new TV and will give the Black Friday TV I got last year to my younger brother," he said. "I traded up."
It was not such a success for Haris Qudsi of Catonsville, a student at University of Maryland Baltimore County. He didn't get the 50-inch TV he wanted because the store ran out. He chose a 40-inch set for $429 instead, but was philosophical about the hit-or-miss experience. "I had expected a mad rush," he said.
Early Thursday morning, Heather Kim of Towson admitted that it was "kind of ridiculous'' for her and her daughter, Kylee, 7, to have left home at 6:15 a.m. to be 89th in line outside the store. But she managed to score a $75 jacket for $10, along with boots and other bargains.
"You do what you got to do to get your deals. What's sleep, right?" she said.
While excited about the savings, some shoppers like Ernie Barton of Aberdeen felt for workers who had to staff the stores on the holiday. But that didn't stop him from joining a line he estimated at 300-400 shoppers before the doors opened.
"It's not like you're going in there and you might save something. You're definitely saving money going in there," he said.
When Brittany Evans of Owings Mills found out that Best Buy would be offering 40-inch televisions for $179, she ran home, showered, threw some food in the cat's bowl and called her boyfriend to say, "I don't know when I'll see you, but if you need me I'll be at Best Buy."
When she pulled into the parking lot off Owings Mills Boulevard at 11 p.m. Wednesday night, she claimed the first spot in line. The store didn't open until midnight Thursday. Evans, a 25-year-old Nordstrom clerk, said her friends and family thought she'd lost her mind, to spend 25 hours camped outside for a TV.
At 1 p.m., saying the time was "flying by," Evans was hardly suffering. Wrapped in a fuzzy blanket, she communed with her bargain-hunting line mates who'd by then were sharing food and stories.
"Yeah, I'm not spending time with my loved ones, which is kind of sad," she said. "But Christmas is right around the corner and it's just one day. I'll see them tomorrow."
Best Buy had equipped early birds by installing temporary portable restrooms alongside the store. Those in line before the store opened had the best chance to claim tickets for the biggest "door buster" sales.
George and Latanya Brooks claimed the eighth and ninth spots in the Best Buy line, arriving at 8 a.m. The Randallstown couple hoped to snag two of the 40-inch TVs, two $39 Blu-ray players and two 50-inch televisions. Some they'd keep; the rest would become gifts.
Brooks had put her turkey in the oven before she left and drove home a few hours later to get it from the oven while her husband minded their seats.
"It's just a little sacrifice, but we'll do Thanksgiving tomorrow," she said, as her husband added with a laugh, "It will taste better after you come home with those deals."