Back in olden days, say about three years ago, Amy Webb used to run out to her driveway on Thanksgiving morning and grab the newspaper ads that would help her plan for Black Friday sales that actually began on Friday.
This year, the Petaluma resident and throngs of other shoppers already have seen online Black Friday ads from the nation's big retailers. And just like Christmas trees now pop up in stores around Halloween, Black Friday sales now break out before some families have put away the leftover turkey and pumpkin pie.
All the advance ads and the Thanksgiving Day store openings still weren't enough to persuade Webb to stand in line this year for the annual kickoff of the holiday sales season. She checked the offers and concluded, "There's nothing that &‘Oh, I have to have that.'<TH>"
But millions of others will be seeking deals, and many will be doing so a day earlier than last year.
"The big trend is stores opening much, much earlier," said Rob Woods, marketing director for the website BlackFriday.com.
"Two years ago, midnight would have been crazy early to open," Woods said. Thanksgiving and the day-after sales used to be two separate events, he said, but "now it's all kind of mashed together."
Up to 147 million Americans may go shopping over the Black Friday weekend, down from 152 million last year, according to the National Retail Federation.
But sales for this holiday season are forecast to rise 4.1 percent to $586 billion, compared to a sales increase of 5.6 percent in 2011.
According to some accounts, Black Friday received its name because historically it's the day when stores turn red ink into black and become profitable for the full year.
Among the stores offering early deals this year will be Wal-Mart, Sears, Kmart and Toys R Us, where their first sales begin at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. (Wal-Mart and Kmart will open Thursday as usual before the Black Friday deals begin.)
Target will open an hour later at 9 p.m. Stores in the Petaluma Village Premium Outlets mall also will be open as early as 9 p.m., with the remainder open by midnight.
Macy's and Kohl's will open at midnight. And J.C. Penney kicks off its sale at 6 a.m. Friday.
Mike Gobble, store manager for the Penney store in Coddingtown Mall, said Black Friday "absolutely" is the store's biggest sales day of the year. It's also now the one time of the year when the retailer offers a sale, rather than stick to its everyday low price policy.
"Our deals are going to be around all day this year," not just in the early hours, Gobble said as staff prepared an expanded toy section near the second floor escalator.
Gobble, who is preparing for his 29th holiday season, said the main trend of Black Friday is that "certain retailers are opening earlier, trying to get that dollar."
Not surprisingly, not everyone likes what some are calling the "Christmas creep" of ever-earlier sale openings.
Target employee Casey St. Clair of Corona has received more than 229,000 signatures on her Change.org petition urging her employer not to open on Thanksgiving Day. The response was similar in size to another Target employee's petition on the same issue last year.