Black Friday shoppers were sparse Friday morning in stores that opened on Thanksgiving.
At Westroads Mall, a handful of shoppers were milling around as early as 5:30 a.m. But the mall saw much of it's Black Friday traffic on Thursday, having opened its doors at 7 p.m that night to allow shoppers to wait for 8 p.m openings at the mall's anchor tenants, J.C Penney's and Younkers, and many other stores.
Westroads' senior general manager Jim Sadler said Thursday night was orderly and calm, but many stores saw lines, including Younkers, Penney's, Victoria's Secret and Dick's Sporting Goods.
At the Nebraska Furniture Mart, hundreds of shoppers waited outside for the 6 a.m. opening Friday. The store was closed Wednesday, but had held a day of holiday specials Wednesday.
First in line was 18-year-old Drew Combs of Omaha, who arrived around 10 p.m. Thursday. He originally came for an Xbox One but some friends managed to find one on Thursday at Walmart for him.
Combs said he was joined by a group of friends as big as 12 people at one point, but the number dwindled to four as a breeze pushed the overnight low to a near-single-digit wind chill.
After the doors opened, Combs and friend Mike Casper, 18, weaved through a steady stream of shoppers to pick up items their families had phoned in.
At the Westroads, traffic tapered off around 2 a.m Friday, but he expected it to pick up again after 6 a.m when all mall stores opened.
"I think it'll be busy, but I don't think it'll be crushing," Sadler said, adding that from 8 p.m last night to 2 a.m. today it was pretty "hot and heavy."
Some retailers said they expected shoppers to come in waves Friday – before and after the 11 a.m. Nebraska-Iowa football game in Lincoln.
Just a few years ago, the idea of going out and hitting a bunch of stores on Thanksgiving was, well, a little strange.
Now many people make it a priority to shop after the last piece of pie has been eaten and the dishes cleared.
“We ate dinner at 3 and by 5:30 everybody had dispensed to different stores,” said Jason Appuhn, who was waiting for his wife at the J.C. Penney store at Oak View Mall.
J.C. Penney this year joined the new retail trend, opening for the first time on Thanksgiving at 8 p.m.
“My daughter saw the ads and said we should come here,” said Mary Lou Gunia of Omaha. “I didn't know this was their first year.”
There are some who disagree with the new consumer spin on Thanksgiving, preferring that stores remain closed on the holiday.
“Thanksgiving should be for family,” Martin Anderson said earlier in the day as his wife shopped at Big Lots near 132nd and West Center. “I wish it would go back to the way it was.”
Others said the deals were too good to pass up, or that shopping on Turkey Day has now become a new tradition for the family to share.
Nationwide, an estimated 33 million people were expected to shop at some point on Thanksgiving as more and more stores follow the trend of starting their Black Friday deals early. Another 127 million will shop today, Saturday or Sunday, according to the National Retail Federation.
The Thanksgiving store openings also seem to be getting earlier and earlier.
Old Navy at Shadow Lake Towne Center in Papillion had one of the earliest starts Thursday, opening its doors at 9 a.m. and quickly attracting a handful of customers.
“Today is my first day of Christmas shopping, and I'm trying to get it all done today,” Remy Lewis of Bellevue said as she searched the racks at the store. Lewis has to work on Black Friday and had family plans later Thursday, making the Thursday morning shopping option a good one for her.
Big Lots near 132nd and West Center opened even earlier, at 7 a.m.
Shoppers gave a cornucopia of reasons for shopping in the a.m. on Thanksgiving — happening to see an “Open” sign, an attractive sale or a chance to get the earliest possible start on Christmas shopping.
For those who ventured out Thursday morning, it was a shoppers' paradise – that is, if you didn't mind the limited store selection. There were no crowds and plenty of parking in front of the few stores that were open to lure the early, early birds.
At noon, Beth and Brian Cutsor of Omaha stopped in at Big Lots to check out a group of recliners that were on sale. The couple hadn't planned to go shopping on Thanksgiving, but a sales flier lured them to the store.
“We've been looking for a recliner for about a year, and these were on sale only today,” said Beth, who waited for her husband to choose between a faux black leather recliner and the cushier fabric-cover model.
Suresh Yadav of Omaha took advantage of some down time until his family's Thanksgiving feast. He showed up at Big Lots to pick up some brushes for some home painting projects. “I'm glad they're open,” he said.
It was a spur-of-the-moment decision for Anthony and Keri-Anne Spaduzzi of Bellevue to pop into Old Navy Thursday morning. They were picking up a prepared turkey dinner at a nearby Hy-Vee supermarket and “just happened to drive by and see they were open,” Anthony Spaduzzi said.
For Keri-Anne Spaduzzi, the quiet store was a blessing. One of the reasons she says she does 90 percent of her shopping online is to avoid the traffic in stores. “We don't like crowds, so this is perfect,” she said.
When their shopping spree ended at 10 a.m., they'd managed to stuff two Old Navy shopping bags full of pants, T-shirts and long sleeve shirts for their two children. Their haul totaled $560, but a 40 percent discount dropped the bill to $336.
“Now we just go home, warm the turkey up, and enjoy our Thanksgiving,” Anthony Spaduzzi said.
Employees at Old Navy who volunteered to work on Thanksgiving were given holiday pay as well as turkey and the trimmings, courtesy of the store, in the back room.
The Thanksgiving sale at the store took place until 4 p.m. Then, like many other retailers, Old Navy reopened Thursday night to kick off its official Black Friday shopping.
“We'll reopen at 7 p.m. (Thursday) and be open until 12 a.m. Saturday,” Old Navy store manager Sharlene Vogel said.
Indeed, the big crowds materialized later in the day Thursday as most stores launched their Black Friday sales events.
At the L Street Marketplace, cars filled the Target and Walmart parking lots when doors opened at 6 p.m., and some 200 people were at the door when the Sports Authority store at 120th and L opened at 6.
At Oak View, more than 200 people waited in line for Younkers to open its doors at 8 p.m. Inside the mall, customers lined up at Auntie Anne's to top off their Thanksgiving meals with pretzels and lemonade. Throughout the mall, a festive mood prevailed.
For Michelle Streck, shopping on Thanksgiving was a tradition she had shared with her mother and sister for several years — and one that didn't interfere with the family's holiday plans.
“We had our dinner at noon,” said Streck as she looked through racks of sportswear at Sports Authority.
Rory Geiger said the Thanksgiving hours meshed well with his schedule.
“I'm working tomorrow,” said the Omaha truck driver as he loaded three bicycles into the back of his pickup truck.
Sports Authority manager Jim Desrosiers said there were 15 employees on duty to run all six cash registers, fetch items from the stockroom and help customers out with their purchases. Last year, the store didn't open until midnight on Black Friday. This year it was open from 6 p.m. to midnight, then reopening at 6 a.m. Black Friday.
A few intrepid shoppers braved the cold Thanksgiving morning to secure spots in line for early Black Friday shopping later in the day.
Bobby Freeman of Malibu, Calif., and Jacob Johnson of Iowa were visiting family in Omaha but decided to stake their claim to the second and third spots in line outside Best Buy at Shadow Lake. They'd face a nine-hour wait before the store's 6 p.m. opening but hoped to get the jump on deals for PlayStation 4, TVs and movies.
When the pair arrived at 9 a.m., first place in line had already been taken. Mike Johnson, no relation to Jacob, had planted his red folding chair at the head of the line. He had his eye on a pair of 24-inch TVs.
Mike Johnson stole away now and then to warm up inside his pickup truck. But in spite of what figured to be a long and cold wait, Johnson said he wouldn't be missing the family turkey dinner — thanks to his wife.
“She's bringing it to me,” he said. “I'll eat it in line.''