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Big crowds turn out on Black Friday despite Thanksgiving store openings

Shoppers check out the Black Friday ads three years ago at JCPenney in the Southlake Mall in Hobart.

Black Friday has crept forward to Thanksgiving over the last few years, but this year a number of retailers are pushing back.

Barnes & Noble, Bed Bath & Beyond, Burlington Coat Factory, Cabela’s, Costco, DSW, GameStop, Guitar Center, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Marshalls, and Mattress Firm all plan to be closed on Thanksgiving, giving their employees the opportunity to spend the holiday at home with their families.

Still, the annual shopping frenzy again largely kicks off on Thanksgiving.

Southlake Mall in Hobart, River Oaks Center in Calumet City, Lighthouse Place Premium Outlets in Michigan City, Orland Square Mall in Orland Park, and Kohl’s department stores across the Region all open at 6 p.m. Thursday, and are staying open as late as 1 a.m. before largely reopening at 6 a.m. on Black Friday.

One could argue that many families already will have finished their feasts of turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce by Thursday evening, but the feisty mosh pit of shoppers shouldering their way to big savings already will be well underway.

Shop early, shop often

The department store JCPenney, which has locations in Southlake, River Oaks, Orland Square and Valparaiso, opens at 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving and hopes to lure people away from the warmth of home and family with coupons of up to $500. Macy’s and Gordmans throw their doors open at 5 p.m. on Turkey Day, while Meijer — already open for last-minute grocery shoppers who realized they don’t have enough rolls or forgot the green bean casserole — starts offering its Black Friday deals at 6 a.m.

Stores are offering the usual doorbuster deals like cotton towels for $3 or diamond earrings for $30 that typically turn shopping centers and strip malls throughout Northwest Indiana into jam-packed madhouses. Local malls will stay open until 10 p.m. on Black Friday, which historically has been one of the busiest shopping days of the year and the semi-official start to the holiday shopping season.

“Our extended holiday hours and popular selection of retailers will meet shopper demand,” River Oaks Center mall manager Rhonda Simon said.

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Let the spending begin

Retailers are hoping for an even bigger holiday season than 2015, when sales rose 3 percent to $626.1 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. This year, analysts forecast $655.8 billion in retail sales in November and December.

Expect to see the usual Santas and even Victorian carolers at Lighthouse Place in Michigan City.

And other retailers are pulling out the stops in other ways to get the customers in the door. Southlake Mall is offering $20 off the first purchase of at least $20 at any mall store on Thanksgiving through its “Oh, So Simple Rewards” program, and raffling off daily gifts like Beats Studio headphones, Kate Spade handbags and Apple Watch Sport to people who text “GiftADay” to 60867 from Thanksgiving through Dec. 24.

There’s a reason why retailers want to get people in the door. Unemployment is only 4.9 percent nationally, and overall retail sales are projected to grow 3.6 percent this holiday season, well above the 2.5 percent average over the last decade, according to the National Retail Federation.

Think small, buy big

After the initial frenzy of mall shopping, people are encouraged to visit locally owned shops during Small Business Saturday. American Express promotes the annual event, with Americans spending more than $16 billion at local merchants in their communities.

“Hoosiers owe a great deal of our jobs to small businesses, and this Saturday is an opportunity to reward them for their important contribution to our economy,” said National Federation for Independent Business Indiana State Director Barbara Quandt Underwood.

If your credit card isn’t maxed out by then, there’s also of course Cyber Monday when retailers like Amazon offer deep discounts online. But like Black Friday, the definition of Cyber Monday is becoming increasingly fluid — Macy’s for instance will have cyber deals through Thursday, Dec. 1.

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.