Black Friday shopper Tess Dorsey, left, of Ellicott City, is joined by her 4 month old son, Vincent, daughters Juliana, 2, and Angelina, 5, and her friend and fellow Black Friday shopper Lynn Elliott, of Catonsville, and Lynn's daughter, Cate McLaughlin, outside at The Mall in Columbia in Columbia last week. (Staff photo by Jen Rynda / November 20, 2013)

As many families retire to the couch Thursday after their annual Thanksgiving meal, Stephanie McClellan will pull on her sneakers, grab her purse and head out the door for an all-nighter.

The Clarksville resident and her lifelong friend, Lara Chirichella, of Olney, will stand in line and make their way through crowds, filled with anticipation of what awaits when they walk through the doors at Walmart.

"We always get the Tupperware set at Walmart every year," she said. "Instead of $30, it's $6."

The set is a good deal, she said, and also a necessity because Tupperware seems to disappear after Thanksgiving dinner. But it's also a running joke and symbol of the Black Friday shopping tradition she and Chirichella established more than 10 years ago.

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"Could I get away with not going?" she said. "Yeah, but we actually have a really good time."

Whether it's for the deals, the thrill of the chase or the bonds formed between family and friends, shoppers from across the county will hit retailers in droves Thanksgiving night and Black Friday, marking the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season.

Many retailers are opening earlier than ever on Thanksgiving Day, and shoppers are expected to take advantage of the extra time.

According to the National Retail Federation, more than 140 million people are expected to shop over the Thanksgiving weekend. More than 23 percent of them plan to shop on Thanksgiving Day and more than 69 percent plan to shop on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

Local retailers depend on these shopping days, said Greg Lowe, chairman of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce board of directors and vice president and chief operating officer of Lowe fs, a firm of financial services specialists

"They, along with food-service businesses, rely heavily on a solid holiday season," he said. "It could certainly make or break their entire year, so we'll be watching closely the turnout on Black Friday."

Opening on Thanksgiving can help stores keep up with online retailers, said Patrick Donoho, president of the Maryland Retailers Association.

"They're just trying to compete for what they see as the marketplace," Donoho said.

Thanksgiving hours can also meet demand. Starbucks at the Mall in Columbia will open at 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving and remain open until 11 p.m. on Black Friday.

In past years, Starbucks staff members arrived on Thanksgiving around 8 p.m. to prepare for the 10 p.m. Thanksgiving opening. But an "overwhelming" number of people would still line up outside the store, just waiting for the doors to open, said manager Kirby Morales.

"People were banging on the doors to open up," she said with a laugh. "They were chanting, 'Open, open.' "

Last year, the coffeehouse served more than 2,200 people by the end of Black Friday, said Morales.

Why they do it

Among those visiting Starbucks will be Tess Dorsey, of Ellicott City. Every year on Black Friday, she and friend Lynn Elliot, of Catonsville, stop by for a coffee before shopping in either The Mall in Columbia or Arundel Mills.

The duo usually arrives around 5 a.m.

"My husband is so thrilled that I've found someone who will go with me, so there's never any option that I may ask him," she said.