Cathi Mielke, a committed Black Friday shopper, got a slightly earlier start this year than in prior years.

"I like Black Friday shopping," the Carroll County resident said as she was leaving Best Buy in Bel Air Thursday night. "This is the first time I've gone out at 3 o' clock in the afternoon on Thanksgiving to go shopping."

Retailers throughout Harford County and the nation opened their doors as early as 6 p.m. Thursday to allow shoppers seeking deals on toys and electronics to get a jump on their Christmas shopping.

Mielke came to Best Buy with her aunt, Debbie Burk, and Burk's son, William. The Burks, who used to live in Forest Hill, reside in Airville, Pa., about 25 miles as the crow flies due north of Bel Air.

Debbie Burk said the trio put a rush on their Thanksgiving dinner and were out Thursday because her son wanted to take advantage of a specific deal on a big-screen television at the Fallston Walmart.

The television was sold out when they arrived at the Walmart shortly after 6 p.m., but they continued shopping, making stops at other Bel Air-area retailers such as Best Buy and Toys R Us.

"We've been to Toys R Us, Walmart, here, back to Toys R Us for the 5 a.m. sale," Mielke said.

Mielke said she planned to return to the Bel Air Toys R Us Friday morning to pick up a tablet that would be on sale then.

A steady stream of shoppers made their way through the Best Buy. Crowds were orderly and employees wearing blue shirts helped customers interested in the latest smartphones, tablets, computers and televisions.

Simon Sheung of Toronto, Canada, was visiting his sister, Stephenie, who lives in Bel Air, for Thanksgiving.

They decided to head out Thursday evening to check out laptop computers which Simon had learned were on sale at Best Buy.

"This is not as bad as I thought at all," Stephenie, who was taking part in her first Black Friday experience, remarked.

The siblings spent their lives traveling the world, as their father, an engineer with Caterpillar, was transferred to locations such as China, Hong Kong and Canada.

They noted people in other countries engage in intense holiday shopping, but "nowhere as serious" as in the U.S.

"Black Friday is uniquely American, I think," Stephenie said.

Michele DiSabato, general manager at Best Buy, said "we had a line around the building" when the store opened at 6 p.m. Thursday.

"We had a great turnout," she said. "It's been busy; we have some great offers going through the whole weekend."

Parking lots at major shopping centers in Abingdon and Bel Air were filled with cars as shoppers arrived Thursday to hit stores such as Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Toys R Us.

The h.h. gregg appliance and electronics store next to the Toys R Us in Bel Air Marketplace was not as busy by 9 p.m., however.

It was consumers' loss, according to shopper Derek Holder, who purchased two televisions and a tablet.

He was prepared to visit to local Walmart to purchase a television, but got a call from a friend who had heard about a deal on TVs at h.h. gregg.

Holder, who lives in Edgewood, said he found a better deal than at Walmart, and noted he is a regular shopper at h.h. gregg and Walmart.

He said he had not seen h.h. gregg deals promoted as heavily as those offered by competing retailers.

"If I didn't get a phone call, that same money [I spent at h.h. gregg] I would have spent at Walmart," he said.

While Thursday and Friday were dedicated to deals at many of the larger stores, Saturday was a day for the small stores, the independently owned places to offer their deals on Small Business Saturday.

Local stores in downtown Bel Air, Havre de Grace and Aberdeen were gearing up for the big rush of hometown residents, hoping to reap the same benefits as their large-scale competitors.