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.
"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.
This year, Elliot's mother and sister will join the adventure.
"We go for the thrill of it, the thought that there could be a fantastic deal out there," Dorsey said.
Last year, Dorsey said she found a play cottage for her two children, complete with a working doorbell, shutters and a kitchen for half price.
"It was worth it," said Dorsey, who has since had a third child. "The kids just love it."
For Christen McCoy, of Ellicott City, Black Friday is a day to knock out at least 75 percent of her holiday shopping. For six years, she and several family members have traveled across the Bay Bridge to the Queenstown Premium Outlets.
"We as a family get so crazy that time of year, it's kind of nice to get it all done at one time," she said.
McCoy, armed with a three-page gift list, arrives around 10 a.m. and shops until about 5 p.m.
"We're there for the long haul," she said. "Boys are not allowed. They just slow up the process."
While both Dorsey and McCoy said their first priority is shopping for others, sometimes, they can't help but find a deal for themselves.
Last year, McCoy recalled finding shoes at White House Black Market for $10. Regular price is usually around $100.
"My mom and I were like scavengers going through the shoes," she said.
McCoy ended up with two pairs.
How to survive
Seasoned Thanksgiving and Black Friday shoppers say it's hard to predict which stores will have the longest lines. The Thanksgiving night Ravens home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers could impact those lines, as well as the time people begin their shopping.
But there are ways to survive the intensity of the days, shoppers said.
First, be prepared. Scan advertisements and research hours before heading out, McClellan said. Have a plan detailing where to go first.
McClellan usually visits big box retailers on Thanksgiving night. Then, she returns home early Friday morning for a brief nap, only to head out again after lunch.
And dress appropriately. Dorsey recommends wearing flats and comfortable clothing, as well as dressing in layers.
"Even if it's freezing out, dress like it's going to be hot," McClellan added.
Temperatures quickly rise inside crowded stores, she said. So do tempers.
"For the most part, people are kind and friendly," McClellan said. "But there are a few psychotic people."
Across the country, crowds of shoppers have broken doors, destroyed gates and even crushed other shoppers while trying to get inside.
One way to avoid large crowds and lines is to divide and conquer, shoppers said.
"Sometimes, one of us will get the cart and get in line while the other one runs around and grabs toys," McClellan said. "It's too hard to maneuver the cart around the store. It's out-of-control crowded."
And remember that while some deals are good, there are more deals — and shopping days — to be had throughout the season, Dorsey said.