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Violence Mars Start of Holiday Shopping Marathon

For nearly a decade, Black Friday had been the official start to the busy buying binge between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Black Friday unfolded with crowds of customers jammed into stores for discounted merchandise, a hustle for bargains that erupted into isolated bouts of violence — an unfortunate side-effect of America's annual Thanksgiving weekend shopping tempest.

    Outside Chicago, a police officer answering a shoplifting call at a suburban Kohl's shot the driver of a car that was dragging a cop. A brawl at a Southern California Walmart left a police officer injured and two people in custody. A man was stabbed outside a Carlsbad, Calif. mall. In New Jersey, a man was pepper sprayed by authorities after he became "belligerent" while arguing with a Wal-Mart shopper over a television.

    One shopper wrangled another to the ground with a stun gun in a Philadelphia mall. The ordeal was caught on camera as it played out before spectators.

    A dispute over a parking space outside a Virginia Walmart ended with one man pulling a gun and another stabbing him in the arm, police said. A Las Vegas shopper was robbed and shot on his way home with a new television, NBC News reported.

    That mayhem represented the dark side of the holiday shopping season's opening hours, which pushed earlier into Thanksgiving Day this year as more than a dozen major retailers, from Wal-Mart to Target to Toys R Us, opened on the holiday and planned to stay open through Black Friday, the traditional starting date. As a result, crowds formed early and often throughout the two days.

    Doors opened at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Toys R Us in San Jose, Calif., where Kundan Madhav was second in line. He said he was happy to be spared waiting until Friday morning, as in years past. And he saw no problem with people putting off their Thanksgiving feasts until after their shopping was done.

    "What they want, they can get today, and tomorrow, they can enjoy [the] holiday," Madhav said.

    For nearly a decade, Black Friday had been the official start to the busy buying binge sandwiched between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was named Black Friday because that was traditionally when retailers turned a profit, or moved out of the red and into the black.

    But in the past few years, retailers have pushed opening times into Thanksgiving night. Some, like Macy's and J.C. Penney, opened on Thanksgiving for the first time this year. Others, like Gap Inc., which owns Banana Republic, Gap and Old Navy, opened some stores earlier on Thanksgiving than the year before. And many pushed up the discounting that used to be reserved for Black Friday into early November.

    About 15,000 shoppers were at the flagship Macy's Herald Square in New York City right before the doors opened Thursday, said Terry Lundgren, CEO, president and chairman of the department store chain.

    Lundgren, who was at the entrance, told The Associated Press that the retailer knew it had to open when it found out other competitors were planning to open on Thanksgiving night. He also said it received positive feedback from its employees. "We're a competitive group," he said. "It's very clear they (the shoppers) want to be here at 8 p.m."

    Meanwhile, it was mayhem in the shoe department with shoppers pushing and shoving each other to grab boxes of cold weather boots, discounted by 50 percent, that were stacked high on tables.

    "This is my first Black Friday, and I don't particularly like it," said Tammy Oliver, 45, who had a box of Bearpaw boots under her arm, a gift for herself. "But I did get some good deals."

    The North Point Mall in Alpharetta, Ga. had been open for hours as dawn broke Friday. Among the throngs was Dalton Mason, 22.

    "I like being around crowds of people all doing the same thing," he said.

    In Anchorage, Annie Luck chose not to fix her family Thanksgiving dinner so she could camp in sub-freezing temperatures outside a Best Buy. She called it "Blue Thursday" because "it's sad," she told the Anchorage Daily News.

    "It's a struggle," said Stephanie Hinds, who was in the middle of an 18-hour shift at a clothing store in the Dolphin Mall in Sweetwater, Fla. "We have to be here so we don't get to enjoy our holidays. I had to leave my family, but it was okay... we had dinner early."

    Police arrested a father for child neglect after a state trooper found his baby alone in his car outside a Best Buy store near Orlando, Fla. The father told authorities he thought his wife had the child, but she was found in line in another store, the A.P. reported.

    Some workers' rights groups planned protests on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday because they opposed having retail employees miss family meals at home. And some shoppers had said they would not venture out on Thanksgiving because they believe it's a sacred holiday meant to spend with family and friends.

    A protest outside a Virginia Walmart ended with nine people arrested, most of them union members, police said. Ten people were taken into custody at a demonstration at a Chicago Walmart, CNBC reported. A few dozen protesters marched outside a Walmart outside Dallas. In Ontario, Calif., 10 protesters were cited by police for "failure to disperse."

    But that didn't stop others from taking advantage of the earlier openings and sales. In fact, some retail experts question how much further Black Friday will creep into Thanksgiving. Some now even refer to the holiday as Black Thanksgiving or Gray Thursday and question whether the earlier openings will make people shop more over the two days or simply push up sales from Black Friday.

    "Black Friday is now Gray Friday," said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consultancy.

    Toys R Us chief merchandising operator Richard Barry said the company's decision to move up opening by three hours, to 5 p.m. Thursday, was popular.

    "People liked the fact they could shop at a more humane hour and didn't have to get up in the middle of the night, and could spend time with family," he told the A.P. "Overall our whole strategy is to give customers what they want, how they want and when they want."

    Target Corp. announced a "very successful start" to the Black Friday shopping weekend.

    The retailer opened at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, an hour earlier than a year ago. At Target.com, where nearly all the deals were available on Thanksgiving, traffic and sales were among the highest the Minneapolis-based retailer has seen in a single day.

    Wal-Mart started its deals at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, two hours earlier than last year. The retailer said 1 million customers took advantage of its one-hour guarantee program, which allows shoppers who are inside a Wal-Mart store within one hour of a doorbuster sales event to buy that product and either take it home that day or by Christmas. For the first time this year, customers were offered wristbands for popular products, allowing them to shop while they waited for deals.

    Last year,  Thanksgiving openings took a bite out of Black Friday sales. Sales on turkey day were $810 million last year, an increase of 55 percent from the previous year as more stores opened on the holiday, according to Chicago 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.

    This year, sales figures for Thanksgiving and Black Friday will trickle out in the next couple days. Meanwhile, one thing is clear: Shoppers across the country were taking advantage of the deals on both days.

    More than 200 people waited at the Toys R Us store in Manhattan in the hours before its 5 p.m. opening on Thanksgiving. Green Bryant was first in line at 10 a.m. Bryant, 28, said she didn't miss Thanksgiving festivities but was going home to cook a Thanksgiving meal for her two children.

    "It was worth it," she said. "Now I gotta go home and cook."

    Curtis Akins, 51, drove about three hours from Tifton, Ga., to watch the annual Macy's tree-lighting ceremony at Lenox Square mall in Atlanta on Thanksgiving. The store opened for shoppers at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, and the rest of the mall opened at midnight.

    By 5 a.m. Friday, he was sitting on a bench — looking slightly exhausted — inside another mall as his wife shopped for deals. The North Point Mall in Atlanta's northern suburbs had the feel of an airport terminal in the pre-dawn hours, with some store gates open, others closed and many shoppers slowly shuffling along, bleary-eyed.

    Akins said he wasn't keen on Black Friday starting earlier and earlier.

    "I think it's going to end because it's taking away from the traditional Thanksgiving," he said.