Monday November 30th, 2015 3:08AM

Americans kick off 2-day holiday shopping marathon

By The Associated Press
UNDATED - Holiday shopping this year is a marathon, not a sprint.

More than a dozen major retailers from Wal-Mart to Target to Toys R Us opened on Thanksgiving Day and planned to stay open through Black Friday, the traditional start to the holiday shopping season. As a result, crowds formed early and often throughout the two days.

A Kmart store in midtown Manhattan in New York City was packed with people shopping for clothing and holiday decor items. The discounter opened at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving and planned to stay open for 41 hours straight. Clothing was marked down from 30 percent to 50 percent.

New Yorker Adriana Tavaraz, 51, had just finished work at a travel agency at around 4 p.m. before heading over to Kmart to spend $105 on ornaments, Santa hats and other holiday decor. She saved about 50 percent.

Meanwhile, William Darrell, 57, an accountant who was visiting New York City from Bermuda stopped by Kmart to do some shopping. He bought two pairs of Tom McCan shoes for a total of $34.

The holiday shopping season is transforming right before shoppers' eyes. For nearly a decade, Black Friday had been the official start to the busy buying binge sandwiched between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was named Black Friday because that was traditionally when retailers turned a profit, or moved out of the red and into the black.

But in the past few years, retailers have pushed opening times into Thanksgiving night. Some like Macy's and J.C. Penney opened on Thanksgiving for the first time this year. Others like Gap Inc., which owns Banana Republic, Gap and Old Navy, opened some stores earlier on Thanksgiving than the year before. And many pushed up the discounting that used to be reserved for Black Friday into early November.

The earlier openings and sales were met with some resistance. Some workers' rights groups had planned protests on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday because they opposed having retail employees miss family meals at home. And some shoppers had said they would not venture out on Thanksgiving because they believe it's a sacred holiday meant to spend with family and friends.

But that didn't stop others from taking advantage of the earlier openings and sales. In fact, some retail experts question how much further Black Friday will creep into Thanksgiving. Some now even refer to the holiday as Black Thanksgiving or Gray Thursday and question whether the earlier openings will make people shop more over the two days or simply push up sales from Black Friday.

"Black Friday is now Gray Friday," said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consultancy.

The Thanksgiving openings took a bite out of Black Friday sales last year. Sales on turkey day were $810 million last year, an increase of 55 percent from the previous year as more stores opened on the holiday, according to Chicago research firm ShopperTrak. But sales dropped 1.8 percent to $11.2 billion on Black Friday, though it still was the biggest shopping day last year.

This year, sales figures for Thanksgiving and Black Friday will trickle out in the next couple days. Meanwhile, one thing is clear: Shoppers across the country were taking advantage of the deals on both days.

More than 200 people stood in line at the Toys R Us store in the before its 5 p.m. opening on Thanksgiving. Green Bryant was first in line at 10 a.m. The restaurant manager ended up buying a dollhouse for $129 - $30 off - a Barbie doll and a LeapFrog learning system. Bryant, 28, said she didn't miss Thanksgiving festivities but was going home to cook a Thanksgiving meal for her two children.

"It was worth it," she said. "Now I gotta go home and cook."

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