By the time it opened at 9 p.m. Thursday night for Black Friday, the Toys R Us in New York City's Times Square had a line snaking around the corner from its entrance on 44th Street. It went on for two blocks.
Angela Jenkins was there with two of her girlfriends and no kids. "I left my boyfriend with all of our kids ... by himself," she says with a laugh.
"You gotta do what you gotta do," Jenkins says.
Preparing for Black Friday can mean more than just grabbing a coat and purse. Like many people going to somewhat extreme measures to shop, Jenkins' friend Louise Hamilton says one must follow a well-orchestrated plan.
"A week and a half or two weeks in advance, we looked online for all the circulars that they have for the stores, and we planned how we're gonna do it," Hamilton says.
In the case of Toys R Us, this involved a 28-page circular that in total represents some $12,000 in potential savings.
Many stores opened earlier than ever this year, some on Thanksgiving Day. The National Retail Federation says that based on early showings, holiday sales are on track for a slight increase, to $465 billion this year. That's despite a fairly sluggish economy.
Getting $50 off an iPod or $100 off on an Xbox requires some sacrifice — or some insanity, depending on your perspective. Yanpiero Taveras left his family before the Thanksgiving meal to get in line at the Times Square Toys R Us.
"Right now, at this very minute, they're eating and I'm right here waiting," Taveras says. "My mom told me, 'Don't go. Don't go.' I didn't even eat. I'm, like, hungry. That's how much I wanted the PS3."
Taveras might not have realized that the tradeoff isn't even necessary. This year, more people are expected to shop from their wireless phones, tablets or computers — without putting in time standing in line.
"For Black Friday, we have the same deals online that we have in the store," Toys R Us CEO Gerald Storch says. "We've seen a lot of growth online, and I expect to see even more this year online. But still, the vast majority of sales take place in the stores, as evidenced by the long lines we're seeing tonight."
The Target in Gaithersburg, Md., opened earlier than ever this year: at midnight.
"The very first person got there at 2 p.m. — 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving," says the store's manager, Jim Hook. "So they're waiting 10 hours for us to open."
Black Friday has generated plenty of backlash, from critics of consumerism as well as employees who don't want to work.
In some parts of the country, Black Friday really lived up to its name. There were two incidents of robbery and apparent gang-related violence in parking lots in California. And police are investigating one incident where a woman at a Los Angeles Wal-Mart used pepper spray against fellow shoppers.
Despite the clamor for heavily discounted flat-screen TVs, Hook says his Maryland store's customers remained very civil and orderly.
"Every management person went through crowd-control training this year. It's the first year we've done that," he says.
Customers were allowed to enter 30 at a time, at 20-second intervals, to prevent a stampede. And those at the front of the line were given tickets entitling them to the items in limited supply. Cones and security tape were set up in the store to encourage orderly customer flow.
Back in Times Square, Storch says he didn't skip out on turkey and stuffing in the name of shopping. "Ha! Of course we had Thanksgiving dinner," he says.
By the next morning, though, the Toys R Us CEO reported that he'd also had four cups of coffee to help him stay up through the night.
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