Black Friday is so two years ago. For those looking for shopping deals, it now starts as soon as the Thanksgiving dishes are put in the dishwasher and the pumpkin pie is served.
The term Gray Thursday is being bantered around more often as retailers nudge the traditional kickoff to the shopping season into Thanksgiving evening. In Bellingham, Walmart, Sears and Kmart are expected to have 8 p.m. openings on Thanksgiving Day, while Target will have a 9 p.m. event. Several other big-box stores, as well as many stores in Bellis Fair, are sticking with a midnight opening.
"I hate to say this, but I think this trend (of earlier openings) will continue," said Dev Shapiro, a spokesman for gottadeal.com, a website that collects store sales, including leaked Black Friday ads, and has message boards for people to discuss shopping trends. "It's angered a lot of our visitors and what it's doing to Thanksgiving."
Some of the stores are doing things to lessen the blow of working on Thanksgiving. At the Bellingham Target, a company potluck party is happening before its 9 p.m. opening, said Iana Stoianov, logistics manager at the store.
"We're pretty excited about this," said Stoianov, who noted that the store hired a lot of seasonal employees, particularly to handle the long stretch when the store remains open for 26 straight hours starting on Thanksgiving.
It's unclear how shoppers will react to the Thursday evening openings. Shapiro believes the usual Black Friday shoppers will be out there, as well as some people who didn't want to go shopping in the early morning hours.
Last year a few retailers did Thursday evening openings in Whatcom County, and it did provide some insight on shopping habits, said Tony Stevenson, inventory manager at Bellingham's Best Buy. He said they noticed that shoppers tend to hit a variety of stores throughout the night.
"We'll have that opening rush when we open, followed by a second rush," said Stevenson, whose store opens at midnight.
Whether or not the early openings help, this year's shopping event in Whatcom County should be busier than last year, said Ken Oplinger, president of the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce & Industry. With the Canadian dollar remaining strong, shoppers from British Columbia will be back, but Oplinger believes some of the sales growth this year will come from county residents.
"The local economy has rebounded enough where I think Whatcom shoppers will spend more this season," said Oplinger, who expects retail sales to rise about 6 percent compared to last year's holiday shopping season.
Some retailers are sticking with early-morning openings. Fred Meyer will open at 5 a.m., offering its traditional sock sale to go along with its other discounts. DeWaard & Bode also will have a 5 a.m. opening, and manager Curt Grady expects it to be a busy day, particularly with products that aren't typically on Black Friday lists.
"Mattresses are not a fun product to shop for, but we're seeing increased sales in that department," Grady said. "With some of the sales we have on refrigerators, that could also be hot this year."
As for other items shoppers will be looking for, Shapiro said he hasn't spotted the hot toy this year. An interesting trend he's noticed on the message boards at gottadeal.com is changing parental shopping habits.
"I've seen a lot of questions from parents asking about whether laptops are appropriate for 8- and 9-year-olds," Shapiro said. "Whether parents should go with traditional toys or more electronics is one of the biggest stories this year."
Large flat-screen televisions have been popular Black Friday buys in recent years, and that's expected to continue this year because of deep discounts that day. A 24-inch television is being advertised for under $100, while some 32-inch TVs are listed for under $150.
Shapiro said Blu-ray discs and players will be popular this year because some sales are putting movie titles under $10.
"Along with the quality, what makes Blu-ray attractive to shoppers is that it is adding a lot more restored movies," Shapiro said. "More of the classics are available."
Whatever the products, the earlier hours are marking a change in how people are shopping this year, whether it's in the stores or online, Shapiro said.
"Some (consumers) are postponing Thanksgiving dinner until Friday so they can get their shopping done," Shapiro said. "It wasn't long ago when all the stores would be closed on Thanksgiving. It's much different now."
BLACK FRIDAY OPENINGS
People planning on hitting the stores for Black Friday sales will have more opportunities to get started on Thursday, Nov. 22. Other stores will stick to the midnight and pre-sunrise openings. Of note, many coffee places near the stores plan early hours Friday as well.
Here is a partial list of stores opening early in Bellingham, based on leaked ads gathered by gottadeal.com, contacting officials and company websites:
Starting Thursday, Nov. 22:
7 a.m. Big Lots! (open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., then open 6 a.m. Friday, Nov. 23).
4 p.m. Michaels (open 4 to 11 p.m., then open 7 a.m. Friday).
8 p.m. Walmart, Sears, Kmart.
9 p.m. Target.
11:30 p.m. Main doors open at Bellis Fair; a majority of stores in the mall open at midnight.
Midnight: Best Buy, Kohl's, Macy's.
5 a.m. Fred Meyer, DeWaard & Bode, Lowe's, Home Depot.
6 a.m. Jo-Ann Fabrics, Bed Bath & Beyond, JC Penney, OfficeMax.
7 a.m. Harbor Freight Tools, PetSmart, Rite Aid.
HOLIDAY FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS BLACK FRIDAY IN FAIRHAVEN
Fairhaven will offer a holiday festival for people seeking a less frantic Black Friday shopping experience. Events begin from 3 to 4:45 p.m. Nov. 23 with Santa and Mrs. Claus greeting visitors in the gazebo at Harris Avenue and 10th Street. Parents are asked to bring their own camera if they want photos.
- At 5 p.m., a Lighting of the Trees event takes place at the Village Green, with a performance by the Bellingham High School choir. Candles in front of business doors will show the traditional Holiday Art Walk, which takes place from 5 to 8 p.m. Stores and restaurants will be open for shoppers.
- The festival continues Nov. 24, with Small Business Saturday events, more visits from Santa and horse-drawn carriage rides.
- Holiday activities will take place in Fairhaven each weekend through Dec. 23. Details: Fairhaven.com or the Fairhaven Holiday Festival page on Facebook.
Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2269.