Bargains draw away from turkey

Abha Bhattarai / The Washington Post /


Published Nov 23, 2012 at 04:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

Michael Sunder was lured away from his Thanksgiving dinner by a 40-inch television.

The 19-year-old and 41 million fellow bargain hunters, or about 17 percent of the population, were expected to forgo holiday traditions, if not the entire turkey, in search of bargains. Sunder, an Ellicott City, Md., native, parked in a lawn chair outside the Best Buy in Elkridge, Md., with six friends at 7 a.m. Thursday.

Retailers used to open at dawn on Friday, slashing prices so low on flat-screens that who could resist? Then, just a few years ago, it was suddenly midnight, a kind of slumber party of shopping. Last year, Black Friday crept stealthily into Thursday as the biggest big-box stores threw open their doors at 10 p.m. And this year, stores facing the dual challenge of a slow economic recovery and the proliferation of new online shopping tools have boldly invited themselves into the dinner hour — 8 p.m. — mingling some of the oldest of American rituals: giving thanks, eating turkey and hunting bargains.

Shopping on Thanksgiving is here to stay, and though many people are unhappy about it, consumers have only themselves to blame, the stores say. Just as much as we want to watch football, gather with family and succumb to tryptophan on Thanksgiving, more and more we want to shop.

The scene outside Washington-area malls and shopping centers largely confirmed retailers’ predictions that consumers were willing to give up a family dinner — or at least dessert — for a deep discount. By 4 p.m. Thursday, there was a line of more than a dozen people outside the Best Buy in the DC USA shopping center in Columbia Heights, Md. Many sat on milk crates, while a security guard was stationed at the front door to look out for line jumpers.

In parking lots and strip malls across the country, Thanksgiving was celebrated leaning against brick buildings or in a tent. Some, such as Gloria Maldonado, 39, from El Salvador, who spent hours outside a Best Buy in the District of Columbia in search of a cheap iPad, brought the turkey dinner and pumpkin pie with them.

This weekend is a critical one for big-box retailers, which count on holiday sales for 40 percent of their revenue every year. As consumers continue to hold their purse strings tight, retailers are jockeying for a bigger portion of a shrinking retail pie and pulling out all the stops to draw in shoppers.