Fluid traffic. Plenty of parking spaces. Short lines. Easygoing shoppers strolling through store aisles, sipping coffee.
It was a series of bizarre scenes for veteran Black Friday shoppers Tiffany and Ron Creech as they ventured out for their traditional after-Thanksgiving shopping around 7 a.m.
"We have found parking with absolutely no problem everywhere we have gone," Tiffany Creech said as she and her husband picked out toys at the Target on Gunbarrel Road. "It is definitely weird."
"We've been doing this eight years, and this is definitely the calmest it's been," Ron Creech added. "It just used to be so crazy."
There was still plenty of crazy at Chattanooga-area chain retailers. It had just played out 12 hours before -- or even earlier, in some cases -- as more and more stores pushed their traditional Black Friday doorbuster deals to Thanksgiving Day.
Hamilton Place and Northgate malls opened at 8 p.m. Thursday -- the first time either has opened before midnight. Target and Kohls also moved their doorbusters up to 8 p.m., while Wal-Mart Corp. started its holiday sales events at 6 p.m. -- two hours earlier than last year.
And starting early Thanksgiving morning, Kmart planned to stay open 41 consecutive hours.
More than a dozen major U.S. retailers stayed open for 24 hours or more on Thanksgiving Day through Black Friday, and crowds formed early and often over the two days, according to The Associated Press.
"Black Friday is now Gray Friday," Craig Johnson, president of retail consultancy Customer Growth Partners, told the AP.
Shopping in the Hamilton Place area appeared to continue at a steady clip throughout Friday, with fresh droves of bargain hunters adding to an after-lunch bustle.
But for the most part, the densest shopping crush in the Chattanooga area was over before the frost had even settled early Friday.
Brandon Bergin, executive team leader logistics for the Gunbarrel Road Target, said the store had sold out of some popular electronics such as iPad minis and Nintendo 3DSes by 2 a.m.
"Customers have really responded to the earlier hours," Bergin said around 9 a.m. "It will pick up later in the day, but I think our busiest hours were last night."
Still, many latecomers to the store on Friday said they weren't having any trouble finding items on their lists.
"I'm actually having fun," said Cindy Williams, whose daughter had to persuade her to leave the house at 4 a.m. Friday into what they expected to be a fray. Instead, the two cruised through the mall and other stores in just a few hours.
"I guess we're technically late to the game, but we've been finding everything we've wanted to find without all the hassle."
Despite the unexpected ease, Williams and others say they aren't sure they like the trade-off.
"I didn't want to shop [Thursday]. And I know that employees weren't able to be with their families," Williams said. "I think that family should be home for Thanksgiving."
But the Thanksgiving shopping trend appears to be taking root as more major retailers sign on for marathon holiday sales, citing the competition with online retailers.
Last year, sales on Thanksgiving rose 55 percent from the previous year, to $810 million, as more stores opened on the holiday, according to research firm ShopperTrak. But sales dropped 1.8 percent to $11.2 billion on Black Friday, though it still was the biggest shopping day last year.
Store sales numbers won't be available until today. The National Retail Federation said 140 million people planned to shop during the four-day holiday weekend.
On Friday, Wal-Mart told the AP that customers bought at least 2.8 million towels, 2 million TVs, 1.4 million tablets, 300,000 bicycles and 1.9 million dolls.
To meet the deadline for earlier door busters at an area Walmart store, Leif and Tinikka Smith pushed Thanksgiving dinner back, starting the cooking Wednesday. They joined the long lines in the afternoon and watched the familiar Black Friday frenzy play out on the holiday -- including watching two men get in a fight over a flat-screen TV.
"It was chaos. Hundreds of people," said Leif Smith. "And so many people were so rude and disrespectful. And you're just thinking, 'It's Thanksgiving!'"
Walking past a more serene Walmart on their way to Tinikka's work later Friday morning, the couple said they don't like the new "Gray Thursday" trend, but feel like some of the doorbuster deals are too good to pass up for Christmas on a budget.
"You kind of have to go with it," explained Leif Smith. "The kids' toys are just so much cheaper. You can get a good basketball for $5 instead of $25."
"But I want it back on the morning after Thanksgiving," added Tinikka Smith. "I really do."
Local businesses tended to stick with more limited Black Friday hours, or focused on promoting their own special deals today -- dubbed "Small Business Saturday."
The Rock Creek Outfitters at Hamilton Crossing didn't open until 10 a.m. Friday, but within minutes more than 100 people flooded the store. North Face and Patagonia jackets were selling fast.
"We kind of have a niche market, so we don't really have to do the early opening," said sales associate Tyler Nichols. "People will buy it anyway, whenever it ends up going on sale."
Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6673.
related articles »
The holiday shopping season started as a marathon, not a sprint.
The gap between giving thanks and grabbing deals will all but disappear this year, as the 2013 shopping season encroaches ...
Your Thanksgiving leftovers may have to wait. Retail stores across the nation are hoping to make huge holiday shopping deals ...
NEW YORK — Last Thanksgiving Day, Kimberly Mudge Via's mother, sister and nieces left in the middle of their meals ...