MODESTO -- Retailers are gearing up for the splashiest shopping day of the year, Black Friday.
Traditionally, the holiday shopping season kicks off the day after Thanksgiving. But as retailers continue to vie for consumer dollars, they've opened their stores earlier and earlier.
Several stores that opened at midnight last year are opening even sooner this year, sparking criticism of Black Thursday and protest against what is seen by many as encroaching on the holiday.
If you're looking for something to do on Thursday itself, you can go shopping at Old Navy and Forever 21, both of which plan to be open all day. Several area grocery stores and drugstores will be open.
Vintage Faire Mall in Modesto again will open at midnight and expects thousands on hand for shopping and giveaways.
"We're really excited about it," said Janice Curtin, senior marketing manager for the mall, in its third year of midnight openings. "It's an event."
She said the midnight openings have become a new family tradition for some folks who enjoy going out after wrapping up their holiday meals.
New this year is a giveaway at noon Friday that will select three random shoppers to unwrap a pile of gifts and free souvenir photos from a booth at Center Court.
Another popular spot for Black Friday deals is electronics retailer Best Buy. In Elk Grove, according to news reports, people have been camping since last weekend. At Modesto's Best Buy, a tent sat outside the entrance Monday, but it wasn't occupied. An employee said the tent has been on site for about a week a look inside revealed a bedroll and pillow, but no signs of occupancy. It's not clear if pitching a tent without staying in it violates Black Friday etiquette.
By Tuesday, a line of nearly a dozen tents these ones occupied stretched outside the Sisk Road store.
Nationally, retailers are hoping for a strong Black Friday showing, followed by an equally robust holiday season.
Kirthi Kalyanam, director of the Retail Management Institute at Santa Clara University, cautioned against retailers getting too excited, or economists being too pessimistic, about this year's Black Friday turnout.
"The word is cautiously optimistic," he said. "In the overall economy, we're in a kind of holding pattern."
And it could be that some of the backlash is having an effect.
According to consumer research group BIGinsight, 147 million shoppers nationwide are expected to hit sales Thursday through Sunday. That's about 5 million fewer shoppers than last year.
One reason for the falling interest is that Black Friday-type deals no longer are limited to Black Friday. Many consumers started shopping in early November, when stores rolled out promotions offering 40 percent to 50 percent off. Other stores, including Gap and Disney, extended the shopping holiday for the full week.
The San Jose Mercury News contributed to this report.
Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2343. Follow her on Twitter, @pattyguerra.
AT A GLANCE
Major store openings times on Black Thursday-Friday:
Old Navy: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thanksgiving, reopening at midnight
Forever 21: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thanksgiving, reopening at midnight
Michaels: 4 to 11 p.m. Thanksgiving, reopening at 7 a.m. Friday
Sears, Toys R Us, Wal-Mart: 8 p.m. Thursday
Target: 9 p.m. Thursday
Best Buy, Macy's, Kohl's: Midnight Thursday
Kmart: 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, reopening at 5 a.m. Friday
J.C. Penney: 6 a.m. Friday
Hobby Lobby: 8 a.m. Friday
If you don't get enough shopping, Black Friday is followed by Small Business Saturday, an effort to encourage shoppers to keep their money local by spending at independent businesses. A number of downtown Modesto businesses are listed on a promotional flier for SBS, including The Dented Chef, bonnie j, The Chartreuse Muse Gallery, c'est jolie, Mistlin Gallery and Beckles Candies, among others. And the Monday after Thanksgiving is typically the busiest online shopping day, making it Cyber Monday.
Black Friday campers prepare for holiday rush in Merced