Each Thanksgiving, Dana Parker wakes up and begins gathering coupons.
Though many stay at home, safe from the crowds that will fill the stores and the malls beginning as early as tonight, Black Friday is one of the most exciting times of the year for Parker.
"I look forward to this every year," she said. "They all think I'm nuts, but this is my favorite time of year."
Parker doesn't just spend her Black Friday each year shopping, however. As assistant manager of the Old Navy at Town Square shopping Center in Schererville, Parker spends part of the day on the other side of the counter - as an employee.
"I'll either go shopping and then come to work, or I go to work and then go shopping," Parker said.
Retailers are counting on die-hard shoppers like Parker - ones who even when they have to work, make time to hit the stores in search of the best bargains.
In fact, the National Retail Federation expects holiday deals to drive 140 million shoppers to stores and online this Thanksgiving 4-day weekend, and stores are pulling out all the stops to be competitive this season.
Like several retailers this year, JC Penney is opening earlier than ever. Doors will open in locations throughout Chicagoland at 8 tonight.
"Last year, we didn't open our doors until 6 a.m. (Friday), and many of our shoppers came to our door to find they were locked," said Ann Marie Bishop, spokesperson for JC Penney. "Our customers told us they wanted to shop and we listened."
Old Navy will open at 7 tonight and won't close until 11 p.m. Friday, while most Macy's locations will open their doors at 8 tonight and won't close until 10 p.m. Friday.
"Following the success of last year's midnight opening, our customers asked for expanded hours," said Lauren Dolan Rapisand, media relations manager for Macy's North and Midwest regions.
Even retail stores like Bass Pro Shops plan to open early, with the outdoor recreation store opening at 5 a.m. Friday at its Portage, Gurnee and Bolingbrook locations.
"We have a 6-hour sale on Black Friday that will have people lined up to get inside," said Tammy Sapp, spokesperson for Bass Pro Shops. "There are amazing deals at our stores with things that everyone in the family will want to find under the tree - from jeans to smokers to toys for the kids."
This year, Bishop said JC Penney will bring back a popular holiday tradition from years past - offering Disney snow globes at 4 a.m. Friday.
"We have some customers who have collected them for years," she said.
With more than 35,000 associates hired company-wide for the holiday season, JC Penney spends months prepping for the holiday rush - much of which store associates will see this weekend.
"There's a lot of preparation to get ready for this busy time," Bishop said. "It's exciting to see customers shopping in the stores and finding gifts for people on their lists."
Old Navy also is planning special deals as a reward for those willing to stand in line in the frigid cold, waiting for doors to open. The company is offering customers a chance to win a million dollars, and Parker says Old Navy is offering one of the best deals it's ever had for Black Friday shoppers, though that deal is top secret until doors open.
Though 33 million are expected to shop today, along with another 96 million on Black Friday, according to the National Retail Federation, several thousand more must work this holiday weekend to make sure doors are open for eager shoppers.
Several associates, however, are offered incentives to give up their holidays, and many take the opportunity to earn extra pay and be a part of the hysteria the day offers.
Macy's, for example, surveyed store associates in advance, giving them an opportunity to share their preferences. The store is offering overtime pay to those who work tonight and until their shifts end.
"Well over 90 percent of our opening selling shifts are being filled by regular associates who volunteered or did not indicate a specific schedule preference," Rapisand said.
She said, in fact, many associates prefer working Thanksgiving evening and overnight so they can be home or with family and friends on Black Friday.
Parker said Old Navy puts up a sign-up list to help accommodate everyone's schedules, and adds it fills up fast, with many choosing to work on Black Friday.
"It's the hustle and bustle," Parker said. "All of the employees like it."