Thanksgiving was barely over when Kiera Gustafson and Holly Gaylor arrived at the Columbia mall for the annual Black Friday shopping extravaganza.
It was midnight. The teenagers had heard that all of the stores would be open, but that wasn't the case. Many stores were open, however, and nine hours later they were still there, bags in tow, legs and arms sore.
"We've gone from store to store to store — and back," said Gaylor, 15, of North Laurel.
"It's all for us," Gustafson, 14, of North Laurel, said, admitting to being somewhat ashamed. "I was supposed to get my mom something. I came here with like $800 and I only have like $200 left."
Traditionally one of the busiest shopping days of the year, Black Friday marks the official beginning of the holiday season for consumers, and this year merchants opened even earlier than in the past to take advantage of that.
Some retailers threw their doors open on Thanksgiving night. Though the shops at the mall did not open that early, 19 did open at midnight. Eight more opened between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. The remainder waited until the mall's scheduled opening time of 6 a.m.
Shauna Zarrin had opened the cosmetics shop she manages, Aveda, at midnight, coming in on no sleep. She'd brought in a cup of coffee and brewed another pot. The caffeine had run out hours before.
"We started out fun and excited, I think… right?" she said, turning to her colleague. "We were awake. There were a lot of people in the mall. We had a few sales, and it kind of died down until five. We don't have those big door buster sales like everybody else."
Still, it was worth it, she said.
"It's money that we wouldn't have had in if we opened at a regular time," she said. "I don't know if we'll open at midnight again, but we'll definitely do earlier."
Shoppers throughout the mall were seen with numerous bags of merchandise.
Laura Squirlock, of Highland, and her 5-year-old daughter, Nellie, arrived at 7 a.m. "It's the American way," Squirlock said. "It's part of the holiday. It's tradition."
Gloria Potocek, of Glenwood, said she only has sons, and so she came to the mall with her two nieces, both from Easton. Neither had shopped at the Columbia mall before.
"It's crazy, crowded," said one niece, Lindsay Gordon, 19.
"We're saving more than we're spending," said Laura Gordon, 16. "I like the clothes. There's such good deals."
The mall's food court was in full swing despite the early times. By 9 a.m., eateries that typically would've been serving breakfast had changed over to their lunch menu.
"We have a lot of people who've been here for four, five hours who actually want to eat lunch," said Tom McAuliffe, owner of the Chick-fil-A. "They're on a different time."
He opened his restaurant at 4 a.m. Employees arrived about an hour before. The allure of bagels, doughnuts, sandwiches and overtime pay helped.
McAuliffe said he'd likely open earlier next year.
"If we do it again, we'd probably open up 24 hours," he said. "We want to meet the customers' demand. If they're out here shopping, the meal is part of the experience."
Shopping on Black Friday is also practical, said Eucarias Galicia, 39, of Laurel, who was pushing a stroller overflowing with shopping bags. Her daughter, a toddler, was walking with an uncle — and no, the girl had not been forced to walk in order to make room for the bags, she said.
She was there with several family members and was making tremendous strides on her holiday shopping.
"It's just easier," she said. "One day and you get everything done."
Diane Bajefsky, store manager for Macy's, said the rush of shoppers on Black Friday, no matter how early it begins, is no surprise.
"This is a big experience for people," she said. "They wait all year for it."