HOBART | Kelvin Stanford only dropped by the Menards in Schererville on Friday morning in search a few items: $9.99 pliers, a $3 toaster so he could enjoy toast with his coffee at work and $1.44 fleece throw blankets for his Chihuahua to crawl under.

But the Griffith resident browsed around the store and saw other deals that caught his eye, including $40 off a heater that normally retails for $99. Stanford soon had a full shopping cart.

"I ended up with all this other stuff – candy, little things you can put in stocking caps," he said. "It's worth it."

Shoppers flocked to stores throughout Northwest Indiana on Black Friday, traditionally one of the busiest shopping days of the year, even though a growing number of retailers opened on Thanksgiving. The early-bird shoppers were out even earlier, but parking lots and checkout aisles were still packed Friday morning.

More than 500 people lined up outside the Schererville Menards before it opened at 6 a.m., and droves of bargain-hunters swarmed around the areas malls, shopping plazas and big box stores. They sometimes left shops empty-handed after limited supplies of the doorbuster deals had been plucked clean from the shelves, but many pushed overflowing shopping carts or clutched double fistfuls of shopping bags.

Sales at the JCPenney department store at the Southlake Mall in Hobart were strong, up over last year, and a cause for optimism for the whole holiday shopping season, said store manager Lawrance Eleftheri. Customers started filing up the parking lot two hours before the store opened on Thanksgiving, called ahead to figure out which of the five entrances would be closest to the women's boots that were a hot item, and surged in both during Thursday night and again Friday morning.

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Deacon Alvin Purham bought 200 coats at the JCPenney – not for himself but needy children in Gary, East Chicago and Hammond who will get the winter garments two weeks before Christmas. He founded the charity God's Mighty Men Inc. and takes advantage of the Black Friday deals to stretch his charitable dollar further.

Several residents – including Victor Piepenbrink from Crete – said no deal, no matter how good, could drag them away from home, feast and family on Thanksgiving day.

"There's no reason to go out on Thanksgiving," said Piepenbrink, who was hunting for tools and shelving. "There's still plenty of time to shop."

Retail workers put in long hours, especially after all the Thanksgiving openings. Schererville resident Vince Prather started one job at 8 p.m. at a local mall on Thanksgiving and then ended up working a morning shift for a big box store on Indianapolis Boulevard. He downed four 16-ounce energy drinks to keep going, but worried about how he would power through once the remaining cans were out in his car and he still had more than four hours left on his shift.

JCPenney made sure to take care of its employees, who were all hands on deck to handle the huge crowds, Eleftheri said. All workers got gift bags filled with goodies, and the company made sure they were fed by continually stocking the break room with plenty of food, including pizza, chips and dessert treats.

"It takes a lot," Eleftheri said. "There's putting extra merchandise on the floor for our customers, and keeping it shop-able, and making sure there's the level of service we want. It's a lot of effort."