To say some got an early start on their holiday shopping Friday doesn't quite do justice for die-hard bargain hunters like Tina Taspard.
"I left at 5 this morning," said Taspard, who was shopping mid-morning Friday at SuperTarget, 3201 Iowa. "I drove to Atchison, did a little shopping there before heading back here to Lawrence."
Taspard was one of hundreds of Lawrence residents who joined millions of shoppers nationwide in stores and shopping malls in pursuit of holiday bargains on one of the biggest shopping days of the year.
By 9 a.m., Taspard had been to five stores with just a couple more to go. Many stores threw their doors open at 6 a.m. At least one -- Kohl's -- opened at 5:30 a.m. on the day called Black Friday by retailers hoping to see bottom lines move from red to black for the unofficial start of the Christmas season.
Among the hot items Friday: PlayStations, Care Bears and compact disc players.
Standing in cold, long lines before sunrise, many shoppers said the day after Thanksgiving was worth enduring; some have turned what many consider an ordeal into an annual family outing. Most major retailers offer deep discounts or other gimmicks to lure shoppers even before daybreak.
"My in-laws have done this for years, so I have done it with them. I love to shop, so this is pretty exciting," Janell Watson, of Valley Falls, said at SuperTarget. "This is the best time to get in on all of the good deals before they are all gone. That's my motto: Get it now before it's gone."
Jammed lots; shelves stocked
The day was a challenge for retailers who struggled to keep shelves full for eager customers.
Parking lots were jammed at SuperTarget, Wal-Mart, Best Buy and at other retail locations along south Iowa Street.
"It makes for a very hard day with all the crowds and trying to get everything stocked," said SuperTarget employee Margaret Hinsaw. "The worst thing you can do right now is run out of something because then the customer just gets upset."
While some old favorites still seemed hot gift items this holiday season, Hinsaw said there were newly popular selections, too.
"This year I am predicting Karaoke machines to be hot since they are not too expensive," she said. "Care Bears have made a comeback and a lot of people are buying those. And of course, any kind of electronic will make anyone happy."
Kelsey Jackson and Emily Durflinger, both of Lawrence, said they hoped their parents would buy them CD players with CDs.
"All of my friends have a CD player. I am just hoping for one and some CDs like Evanescene and Avril Lavigne," Jackson said.
Durflinger agreed: "I, too, need a CD player, but I want the Dashboard Confessional CD."
With an improving economy, merchants are more hopeful this year that consumers will keep buying throughout the season, not only when the merchandise is 50 percent off.
"It's not going to be easy. Stores have conditioned consumers to buy on sale," said Burt Flickinger, managing partner at the consulting firm Strategic Resource Group in New York.
The Washington-based National Retail Federation projects total holiday sales to climb 5.7 percent to $217.4 billion this year. That compares with a modest 2.2 percent increase in 2002.
Stores also should benefit from a quirk in the calendar: the holiday season has 27 shopping days, instead of last year's 26.
Still, while many retailers believe the holiday 2003 season will be better than last year, the question is by how much. The economy is on the rebound, but the job market, though improving, is still sluggish.
Stores also are aiming to avoid getting stuck with mounds of holiday leftovers by entering the season with inventories that average 7 percent below last year's levels.
Meanwhile, online holiday sales are expected to remain a bright spot.
Forrester Research estimated that online sales from Thanksgiving weekend to Christmas will increase 42 percent over a year ago to $12.2 billion. The results include travel and auction sites.
While the Thanksgiving weekend starts the shopping spree, it no longer is the busiest period of the season. Last year, the weekend accounted for 10.1 percent of holiday sales.
The busiest period -- which is becoming increasingly important -- is the last week before Christmas, which accounted for 41 percent a year ago. That's up from 34 percent in 2001 and 30.9 percent in 2000, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.
The weekend's business, however, is hardly a barometer of how the rest of the season will fare. Last year, stores enjoyed a strong Thanksgiving weekend, but sales quickly deteriorated.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.