Shoppers pack stores earlier for Black Friday bargains

HOUSTON - Thousands of Houstonians got an earlier start on their holiday shopping after some stores opened Thanksgiving night for Black Friday bargains.

Toys R Us, Wal-Mart and Sears were the first large retail chains to open their doors for bargain hunters at 8 p.m. Thursday and offered door-buster deals on toys, home accessories and clothing to lure in shoppers.

Target broke tradition and also opened on Thanksgiving night, letting shoppers in the stores at 9 p.m.

Midnight was the opening bell for some of the large retailers, including Best Buy, Macy's and Kohl's. JC Penney opened at 6 a.m., as it has done in the past.

Mall parking lots across the city were packed.

Thousands of people were in line at the Toys R Us on Interstate 10 near Bunker Hill before the store opened.

"There was probably about 4,000 people outside," the manager said. "There was a lot of people. It was awesome -- got 'em in, got 'em out. It was a longer wait outside than it was inside."

Sam Gastineau was in that line

"I've been here since 6 o'clock," said Gastineau.

Gastineau said he was there for his 2-year-old daughter because he wants to give her a good Christmas.

"That's the first thing -- she comes first," he said.

Most of the shoppers agreed that battling crowds and staying up late is worth it when you can buy an item for your child that you normally couldn't afford. 

"I'm here because this is going to be my son's first Christmas," said Pamela Leonard.

For the most part, the crowds were calm.

"I haven't been trampled over, so I'm happy," one shopper said. "I can't complain about anybody. Everybody has been cordial to me."

Some shoppers said they were shopping throughout the night and all day.

"You don't rest -- not for Black Friday," Kortni Montgomery said. "You don't rest. You shop."

Retailers are worried that Americans may be less willing to spend freely this holiday season because of uncertainty over having to pay higher taxes after the end of the year, when the Bush-era tax cuts expire.

The National Retail Federation said looming fears over the "fiscal cliff" and the struggling jobs market could keep people from shopping. That's why the NRF predicted that holiday sales will rise by 4.1 percent, which is slower than the 5.6 percent increase last year.

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