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At 4:30 Thursday evening, when many Sonoma County residents were tucking into a second helping of mashed potatoes, Zen?Fenton and her husband, Richard, stood outside Toys R Us on Santa Rosa Avenue waiting to shop for children with disabilities.

Fenton, who works for California Children's Services, a state program for kids with health problems, has bought presents on Black Friday for the past six years. She lamented the fact that the busiest shopping day of the year has crept into Thanksgiving.

"I think it's sad that they are starting to erase Thanksgiving," said Fenton, 43, of Santa Rosa, who was also buying for Toys for Tots. "If it wasn't for the kids, I wouldn't be here."

The Fentons were second in line when the store opened at 5 p.m., and they spent an efficient half-hour loading two carts full of Legos, board games and toy cars before heading home to have a late Thanksgiving dinner.

Others spent much more time waiting in lines and fighting mostly well-behaved crowds hoping to take advantage of offers, such as $79 high-definition TVs, designed to entice shoppers away from Thanksgiving dinners and into stores even earlier than in years past.

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally is the day retailers turn a profit or go "into the black" when consumers nationwide spend upward of $12 billion. With many stores opening on Thursday evening this year, some Santa Rosa shoppers complained about being drawn away from family dinners.

"I'm not really happy with it being this early," said Michele Cook, 31, a Santa Rosa mother who waited in line at Toys R Us for Nerf and Skyland toys. "This day is supposed to be about family. I really wanted to boycott it, but I'm here. I can save a lot of money."

She said that a noon opening time on Thanksgiving would be too early for her.

Some skipped Thanksgiving altogether. Wal-Mart in Rohnert Park opened at 6 a.m. Thursday. Various items throughout the store went on sale at different times, so shoppers lined up inside the store to buy $98 LG TVs, $38 Blu-ray players and $299 iPad minis.

Rosalba Guerrero, a Wal-Mart employee, said she didn't mind working on the holiday. This is her fifth Black Friday in a blue vest, and she worked last year when the store opened at midnight.

"I'd rather give up my afternoon than have to go in at midnight," she said.

"We get holiday pay, so we don't mind."

A group called the Walmart Workers Support Group announced on Facebook that they would be protesting what they say are unfair wages at Wal-Mart in front of the Rohnert Park store at 10 a.m. today.

In front of Best Buy on Santa Rosa Avenue, some shoppers lined up as early as 8 a.m. Wednesday morning for deals on home theater systems, laptops and TVs. Store employees passed out Best Buy hats and scarves to those who had camped out for 34 hours anticipating the 6 p.m. opening.

Chip Cisneros, a Santa Rosa mechanic who has been Black Friday shopping for the past nine years, said the crowds were smaller this year.

"It has been crazier, but I think now people are still having dinner," he said. "I don't really celebrate Thanksgiving, so I don't mind."

A line of about 1,000 people stretched around the perimeter of Best Buy just before the doors opened. Debi Tucker and her 6-year-old daughter, Stella, got into the entrepreneurial spirit and sold coffee and baked goods out of a wagon to customers waiting in line. Tucker said she would donate the proceeds to Philippines typhoon relief efforts.

"It feels better than earning money for Christmas presents," she said.

Some chose to stimulate the economy in other ways. The newly opened Graton Resort & Casino, celebrating its first Thanksgiving, was packed Thursday evening with about three-quarters of its 5,700 parking spaces full.

Peggy Ryan of Hillsborough said she came to see the gambling palace because she has heard a lot about it.

"Our family tradition is to eat Thanksgiving dinner on Friday, so we decided to check out this place today," she said. "Traditions are what you make of them."

You can reach Staff Writer Matt Brown at 521-5206 or matt.brown@pressdemocrat.com.

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