'Tis the season of buying, and buying some more — or of indignation at the idea of interrupting Thanksgiving dinner to go shopping.

The traditional launch of holiday shopping on Black Friday now is succumbing to the why-wait phenomenon. Why wait for Friday when you can get a head start Thursday evening?

In growing numbers, retailers are opening doors Thanksgiving night to cater to shoppers who just can't wait another few hours.

The concept of "Christmas creep" — holiday hoopla starting earlier every year — is being overtaken by what retail analyst Marshal Cohen calls "Christmas crush."

"This is the idea of trying to crush the competition by opening earlier than the store across the mall or down the street," said Cohen, chief industry analyst at New York-based NPD Group.

"Retailers are trying to get that early spend from consumers because, let's face it, wallets are fuller earlier in the season than later in the season," he said. "Early shopping leads to continual shopping."

Merchants also are rolling out online specials earlier than ever. Some deals are targeted specially to high-spending customers and those who use retailers' social-media apps.

For brick-and-mortar traditionalists, Target this year will open at 9 p.m. Thursday, a three-hour advance from last year's midnight start.


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That's none too pleasing to at least 331,000 people through Sunday who have electronically signed a Change.org petition urging Target to "take the high road and save Thanksgiving."

More than 70 similar petitions against other Thanksgiving Day openings by big-box retailers have been launched on the website.

"They're getting the message loud and clear that employees and families across the country want Black Friday to stay Black Friday — not Black Thursday," said Change.org spokeswoman Charlotte Hill. "People want Thanksgiving to be about spending time with family, not spending cash on the latest toys or gadgets."

But Target is simply catering to customer demand by opening Thursday, said Mark Everett, group director for stores in Colorado and other Western states.

Everett said the retailer has "tried to accommodate all employees" by arranging schedules that don't conflict with family and social demands.

Other major retailers opening Thanksgiving night include Kmart, Sears, Toys R Us and Walmart.

Early hours are not just a big-box phenomenon. For example, the Outlets at Castle Rock mall opens at 9 p.m. Thursday and continues to operate for the next 24 hours.

The stakes are huge. Retailers typically generate 20 percent of their entire year's sales from holiday spending.

Holiday sales this year are forecast at a record $586.1 billion, up 4.1 percent from last year, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation.

Retailers wouldn't be opening earlier if customers weren't eager to embrace the experience, said Kirthi Kalyanam, a marketing professor and director of the Retail Management Institute at Santa Clara University.

"Which is better, standing in line outside till midnight or opening the doors earlier?" he said. "Letting people come in and shop seems more civilized to me."

A sampling of Denver-area consumers showed mixed reactions to the growth of Thanksgiving-night openings.

"Personally, I have a problem with that," said Maureen Stone of Denver. "Thanksgiving is a family time. If you want to shop, I guess it's a free country, but I don't think (retail employees) should have to work on Thanksgiving."

Eric Mejia of Aurora said he is a veteran of Black Friday door-buster shopping and welcomes earlier hours.

"After Thanksgiving dinner is kind of a dead time anyway," he said. "If you're going out for the specials, you might as well get an early start."

Smaller retailers typically don't have the interest or staffing to open on Thanksgiving or the wee hours of Black Friday.

"Sleep in and rest after the big Turkey Day," advised Carrie MaKenna, owner of Anam Cara Living Arts Studio & Gallery in Lakewood's Belmar shopping center. The gallery plans to observe regular hours on Black Friday, opening at noon.

Belmar's official opening time Friday is 10 a.m., but several retailers in the center will open earlier, including midnight for Best Buy and Dick's Sporting Goods.

An NPD Group study of holiday retailing last year showed that merchants that extended store hours on Thanksgiving or Black Friday increased sales by an average of 22 percent compared with stores that didn't open earlier.

"Retailers realize that the benefit of it is greater than the heat they'll take for opening on Thanksgiving," NPD's Cohen said.

Extending hours also helps brick-and-mortar retailers compete for market share against online sales.

Internet commerce accounted for nearly 40 percent of Black Friday weekend sales last year, up from 23 percent in 2006, according to the National Retail Federation.

Cohen likes the excitement created by Black Friday sales, but he said wise consumers can find deals even without enduring crowds and freezing in lines.

"You've got to be pretty fanatical to get up at 2 a.m. to get to a 4 a.m. opening," he said. "But if you miss out on a special, chances are you can get the product at the same price a couple weeks later."

Steve Raabe: 303-954-1948, sraabe@denverpost.com or twitter.com/steveraabedp

Store openings

Kmart: Thanksgiving 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., then 8 p.m. through 3 a.m. Friday. Reopens Friday 5 a.m. until 11 p.m.

Sears: Thanksgiving 8 p.m. through Friday 10 p.m.

Target: Thanksgiving 9 p.m. through midnight Friday.

Toys R Us: Thanksgiving 8 p.m.through Friday 10 p.m.

Walmart: Open all day Thanksgiving; specials start at 8 p.m.