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Published November 24 2010

Local retailers set earlier openings on Black Friday

Each time retailers push their post-Thanksgiving shopping specials deeper into the wee hours of morning, they come away with the same lesson: If you’re open, they will come.

Kicking off a sale at 6 a.m.? Customers will be there. Starting at 3 a.m.? They’ll be there then, too. This year, a number of stores will trump even that bleary-eyed hour, putting the midnight in “midnight oil” in a bid to attract adventuresome holiday shoppers.

Alissa Sorum, marketing director at Fargo’s West Acres mall, said stores keep rolling back the Black Friday clock because shoppers keep making the effort worthwhile.

“It keeps getting earlier because the demand is there,” Sorum said.

Last year, the mall’s earliest openings were at 3 a.m. This year, six stores, including Bath & Body Works and Gap, will open at midnight. Three hours later, J.C. Penney and Herberger’s – both of which opened at 4 a.m. a year earlier – get in on the action (as well as McDonald’s, for those who could use a cup of coffee).

By 4 a.m., Macy’s (which opened at 5 a.m. last year) and Sears join the all-nighter. That’s also when Target opens its doors across the street – an hour earlier than it did in 2009, and two hours earlier than its 6 a.m. opening in 2007. Walmart opens at midnight, but certain “door-buster” deals on coveted, deeply discounted merchandise don’t kick in until 5 a.m.

Jenna Reck, a Target spokeswoman, said the 4 a.m. start time is the retailer’s earliest ever. She said the early opening gives shoppers an extra hour to get to the door-busters.

At some stores, competition for those products has led to dust-ups, injuries, and even deaths on Black Friday in years past (no such deaths have been reported in Fargo). Best Buy, which tends to draw big crowds chasing a handful of big-time deals (a 42-inch flat-screen television for $369 and a $190 laptop are among this year’s headliners) distributes tickets for certain items to customers in line to cut down on in-store chaos.

Best Buy’s opening is holding steady at 5 a.m. this year. If past is prologue, the extra hour wouldn’t make much difference for the store’s deal-seekers. A decade ago, in what was perhaps a gentler era of Black Fridays gone by, The Forum reported that the first Best Buy customers were in line at 4:30 a.m. for a 7 a.m. opening. By 2006, the opening had been bumped forward two hours, and shoppers at the head of the same line said they showed up around dinnertime on Thanksgiving Day.

That’s about when shoppers looking to get a jump on deals at Toys R Us might want to think about heading out: After opening at midnight last year, the store is kicking off its door-buster deals at 10 p.m. on Thursday.

By the time Scheels rolls out the welcome mat at 7 a.m. – a mere hour earlier than usual – some of those customers might be ready for dinner (or for bed).

Jeff Tornow, assistant store manager for Scheels in Fargo, said the company is comfortable skipping out on the ultra-early festivities.

“Maybe after they go to those other stores, they come to us,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502