Most major department stores and discounters, including J.C. Penney, Sears, Macy’s and Target, opened their doors Thursday afternoon, many to a crush of shoppers amending the modern holiday tradition: Give thanks, get deals. (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun video)

Even as some retailers pulled back from the recent trend of long Thanksgiving Day hours and online shopping made it easier than ever to snag a deal from the comfort of the couch, the most dedicated deal-seekers still packed in their holiday dinner early to flock to the stores.

Most major department stores and discounters, including JCPenney, Sears, Macy’s and Target, opened their doors Thursday afternoon, many to a crush of shoppers amending the modern holiday tradition: Give thanks, get deals.


Or, in Tammy Appold’s case, vice versa.

“We usually eat around this time,” Appold said as she waited for the JCPenney at Marley Station Mall in Glen Burnie to open at 2 p.m., “but it’s postponed until we get done here.”

Like many other retailers, JCPenney will offer steep discounts throughout the Thanksgiving weekend but reserved some its most enticing deals for Thursday, including a coveted coupon for $500 off a $500 purchase that Appold was hoping to get her hands on.

She walked away with a coupon for $10 off a $10 purchase instead, but rest assured, the Glen Burnie resident didn’t miss out on a hot meal in pursuit of a hot deal — she left her turkey cooking in the oven at home.

The National Retail Federation estimates that 164 million people — about 69 percent of Americans — will shop Thanksgiving weekend, with about 32 million expected to shop on Thanksgiving Day.

Some retailers chose to open later on Thanksgiving Day than in recent years to let people enjoy their meals, but most big merchants and many malls were open by 6 p.m. While online shopping is on the rise, many people prefer to shop in stores.

“You have to pick it up, you have to see it,” June Yerkey of Pasadena said of why she prefers in-person shopping.

Yerkey came to JCPenney with her daughter and mother on a dual mission of scoping out deals and supporting retail workers. All three once worked at the store.

“You have to support brick-and-mortar stores,” Yerkey said. “This is how people get paid.”

Malls pull out the stops to woo shoppers during hyper-competitive holiday season

To keep pace with the holiday rush, JCPenney hired 60 seasonal workers to supplement its regular Glen Burnie staff of 100, said Meredith Paulson, the store’s general manager.

The line of hundreds of shoppers that snaked around the sidewalk outside the store was twice as long as last year, she said. Paulson attributed the rush to opening an hour earlier and offering some killer bargains on small electronics, clothing and toys.

“This is crazy,” Michael Hines of Columbia muttered into boxes of Cooks air fryers, stacked two-high in his arms.

The air fryer, which cooks food with very little oil, is regularly priced $100 but was on sale for $19.99 after a mail-in rebate. It was a hot-ticket item.

Thanksgiving Day deal-snagging is a tradition for Hines’ wife, Sarena, who carried another two fryers toward the register.


While retailers can count on shoppers to hit the stores every year, the rise of online shopping and competition from e-commerce giants such as Amazon as well as traditional retailers’ websites has forced companies to rethink their approach to the holiday shopping season, a critical time for meeting year-end sales and revenue goals.

What used to be a one-day shopping bonanza — Black Friday — is increasingly being spread out through the weekend and beyond, to include Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and, of course, Thanksgiving Day.

Many retailers, including Target and Sears, released their Black Friday deals early.

“Over the last several years there’s been a pull, this kind of Thanksgiving creep of stores opening before Black Friday,” said Adam Peake, an executive in residence specializing in marketing at Loyola University Maryland. “Now it’s been on the other end — shopping that weekend, Cyber Monday, Cyber Week.”

Other retailers, such as Toys ‘R’ Us, keep customers coming through the doors with special offers available only in-store. Online sales continue to grow for the popular toy store, while door-buster deals that change daily draw in customers in search of the season’s hottest toys, said Jessica Langston, the manager of the retailer’s Columbia Crossing store.

Kita Edwards of Catonsville was among the first in the door when the store opened at 5 p.m., and within 20 minutes she had a cart full of toys and games.

Shopping on Black Friday and now, on Thanksgiving Day, is an annual tradition for Edwards that started with her mother. The shopping craze gets a bad rap as commercialism gone wild, Edwards said, but, for her, it is an opportunity to help friends and strangers in need.

Armed with a long list of the best deals organized by store, Edwards still planned to hit Target, Walmart and Kohl’s in search of gifts for her family as well as for friends who are single parents and other families who can’t afford gifts.

Retail sales in November and December, excluding cars, gas and restaurants, are expected to top $679 billion, up at least 3.6 percent from last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

While sales continue to rise, retailers are working harder for profits. Deeper discounts available earlier and for a longer period of time means retailers have to sell more merchandise to meet their revenue goals, said Chris Christopher, an executive director at financial information company IHS Markit.

“This is the new dynamic,” Christopher said. “Americans really want a good deal — they got used to it.”

At the same time, online and mobile sales and additional shopping days have made it possible for retailers to cash in even if their brick-and-mortar stores are closed, Peake said.

Barnes & Noble, Costco, Marshalls, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and REI are among the major retailers that were not open on Thanksgiving.

Outdoor retailer REI has turned its boycott of Thanksgiving and Black Friday shopping into a marketing ploy. For the third consecutive year, REI will keep its 151 stores closed and will not process online sales. Instead, the retailer is promoting its #OptOutside campaign, which encourages people to participate in outdoor activities.

“We are doing this again to unite people and to find common ground in the outdoors,” said REI CEO Jerry Stritzke, in a statement announcing the decision in October. “Right now, I think people are looking for a moment to take a breath, reground themselves and come together.”

While opting out of Thanksgiving and Black Friday may work for some retailers, discounters and other big-box stores that rely on moving a lot of merchandise have little choice but to open — so long as their competitors are open.

That’s fine with Tony Audrey, who was among the first in line outside Toys ‘R’ Us. His 3-year-old son is starting to understand the concept of Christmas, or at least the presents associated with it, and Audrey wants to make sure the holiday is perfect.


“I can actually see what I want here, instead of going online and being disappointed if it’s not right or doesn’t arrive on time,” he said.

The trip meant sacrificing Thanksgiving dinner with his family, but Audrey said he doesn’t mind. They’ll save him a plate.