Retail experts can provide all the evidence they want that in-store Black Friday shopping is losing ground to online purchases. But for Mary Louise Hopp and thousands of other shoppers waiting in lines throughout the Baltimore region Thursday night, nothing beats the thrill of the (bargain) hunt.
The 50-year-old Jarrettsville resident proudly stood first in a line that stretched about 200 deep outside the White Marsh Best Buy on Thursday. Hopp snagged the coveted spot — and the No. 1 voucher for the 15 sets of $149 49-inch Toshiba televisions — by arriving much earlier than anyone else: 8:30 a.m. Sunday.
"I can eat turkey any day of the week, but I can't buy that TV for $149 every day of the week," Hopp said. "The early bird gets the worm."
After saving money all year and taking vacation days from her job with a security company, Hopp was armed with a budget of $1,100. A 16-year veteran of Black Friday battles, Hopp said she has chosen to come to the White Marsh Best Buy for the past five years because the employees let her charge her phone and computer in the store.
Employees passed out the television vouchers at 3 p.m. Thursday when about 100 people were in line. By 5 p.m. the line swelled to about 200.
Hopp's 31-year old daughter, Rebecca Walker, has been at the store since Wednesday morning. They both wore "Black Friday" T-shirts.
"This is our time together," Hopp said, laughing.
Just 5 miles away at the Toys R Us on Pulaski Highway in Rosedale, five Dundalk-area women waited in line to kick off their eighth year of ditching their families after Thanksgiving dinner for a strategically planned night of deal-hunting, this year for a trampoline, board games and other toys.
Before heading out Thursday, the women made their lists, mapped out their route — Toys R Us to Wal-Mart to Target — and packed the car with a cooler full of turkey sandwiches, drinks and other snacks.
"Everybody knows this is our time without the kids," said Leslie Cartwright, a 33-year-old Dundalk resident.
She and her sister, Ashley, and their friend Megan Sherman all agreed that Wal-Mart was the one store they feared the most on Black Friday excursions. One year they went until morning light. These days, 1 a.m. is a more typical quitting time.
"Wal-Mart is crazy," said Sherman, 30, of Cecil County. "Someone jumped over my back last year for a Monster High toy.
"We risk our lives every year," she joked.
Shortly after the joke, a Maryland State Police trooper wearing a bulletproof vest escorted Toys R Us manager Ed Martin down the line to make announcements about protocol.
Martin alerted the nearly 200 waiting shoppers that he would let 50 people in at 5 p.m. and then stagger entry of groups of 25 after that.
"No running. We want everyone to be safe," Martin said as he and his employees passed out store maps.
The 5 p.m. start time was surprising to those who have come to the toy store every year.
"We're coming here earlier and earlier every year," said Karrie Addicks, 26, of Essex.
Stores are opening earlier, in part, to try to regain lost ground for the Thanksgiving retail tradition. Last year, sales in stores and online fell 11 percent over the Thanksgiving weekend, according to the National Retail Federation. Other research has shown that Black Friday has become a less significant sales day than the "Super Saturday" before Christmas.
Still, for parents with children, opting to wait for a slightly better deal could risk missing out on the one gift a kid most desires. For Addicks it's a Nabi tablet for her 3-year-old daughter, Rilynn.
Addicks and Rilynn arrived at 3 p.m. Thursday to get the first spot at Toys R Us. As Rilynn sat in a tiny chair eating a small bowl of macaroni and cheese before the 5 p.m. opening, Addicks said the little girl had a shopping plan of her own.
"She's buying a Barbie for her 8-year-old sister," she said.
Rilynn won't be the only one.
This year Barbie beat out Disney's "Frozen" characters as the most sought-after toy for girls, according to the National Retail Federation. For boys, the top toy remained Legos. But the force was with another brand: "Star Wars" toys jumped from 15th place last year to second in 2015.