UNDATED - Almost before the last bite of turkey and dressing had been eaten, shoppers began running to north Georgia retailers for their annual Black Friday shopping ritual.
This year was a bit different than years past with a few big box stores opening on Thanksgiving night, as opposed to waiting until the pre-dawn hours on Friday to offer their best deals of the season so far.
One of those retailers was Target, and shoppers lined up Thursday night well in advance of the 9:00 p.m. opening. In Wiinder, for example, nearly 500 shoppers were in line awaiting the opening moment.
Beth Forrest from Winder arrived around 5:00 p.m. to get a spot close to the front door to get bargains on Christmas toys.
"It put a damper on eating," she said. "I had to take a quick nap so I could get here and be up all night for this, but it's worth it."
Jamin Horner said he would rather do holiday bargain shopping at 9:00 p.m. on Thursday night than at Friday morning at 5:00.
"We're looking for some key items for Christmas this year," Horner said.
Jenene Craig and her 15-year-old son Charles from Loganville were also near the front of the line.
"I'm glad it's Thursday evening and not in the middle of the night," she said. "We've got some toys to get and we want to get a TV."
According to Target's national marketing spoespersons, the nation's number two retailer wanted to give shoppers an "after dinner shopping event for the whole family."
Stan Martin from Winder claimed the first in line spot by arriving at 3:00 p.m., seeking a 50-inch LCD HDTV for $349. He said he had no problem with the 9:00 p.m. Thursday shopping time either.
By the time Target employees opened the doors, the line of shoppers had multiplied far beyond five hundred, but store workers dressed in bright red saw to it that entry was orderly, and Barrow County sheriff's deputies stopped anyone from cutting in line.
In addition to Target stores, Wal-Mart stores across the region offered Black Friday deals earlier than usual. Typically, Wal-Mart remains open around the clock, but shoppers who wanted Black Friday deals had to wait until appointed hours to buy certain items.
AccessNorthGA.com's Katie B. Davis reported that while the Gainesville Wal-Mart on Shallowford Road was crowded, there were none of the disturbances from employees seen in other parts of the country.
"While there have been some protests in other parts of the U.S. over labor practices at Wal-Mart stores, we're no seeing any of that here," reported Davis.
She did say there was some pushing and shoving as customers tried to beat others to the deals being unwrapped in the store aisles.
On a similar note, AccessNorthGA.com's Martin Dotson said there were some minor scuffles in the Wal-Mart in Cornelia. He reported one man suffered a broken ankle when he was trampled by customers Thursday night.
Area malls open earlier for Black Friday
Most shopping malls across the region opened hours earlier than on past Black Fridays.
The Mall of Georgia opened at midnight for the first time ever, saying that the additional hours were tacked on to the Black Friday schedule because of consumer demand.
"It's really dictated by the shoppers," said Carol Cox with Mall of Georgia management. "You know, if the shoppers are going to keep coming out earlier, then we're going to keep opening earlier."
Lakeshore Mall in Gainesville also opened at midnight, even though anchor store Sears opened at 8:00 p.m. Thursday.
Long lines of customers wrapped around the outside of both Belk stores at Lakeshore Mall, many of them lured by the promise of gift cards. Every Belk store distributed 250 gift cards with the promise that at least one of the cards at each store was worth $1,000.
"I do this every year," said Tina Sears of Gainesville. "We come to Belk. The most I've ever gotten [on a gift card] is $25 so far."
According to the latest national survey of retail executives, retailers are expected to see an increase of 3.8% in sales on Black Friday this year.
This story will be updated with reports from other area retailers.