Tradition, deals and ‘the shopping spirit’ still draw Thanksgiving buyers

Jay Pujalte, 45, spent three nights in a tent outside the Atwater Village Best Buy. With a rug for comfort and his wife and daughter for company, Pujalte was willing to wait to find a deal — and an experience — that couldn’t be had online.

Over the years, e-commerce and ever-earlier sales have eroded Black Friday’s prominence as the main barometer of the holiday shopping season. But Thanksgiving night shopping still holds mystique for consumers.

A recent PwC consumer survey found that 58% of shoppers planned to go out and browse for bargains after eating their turkey. Last year, only 40% of shoppers said they would shop on Thanksgiving night.

Some choose to shop in brick-and-mortar stores to be able to see and touch what they are buying. Some, as Pujalte said, want to capture “the shopping spirit.”


Camping outside before Thanksgiving sales has become tradition for his Highland, Calif., family, who have sat outside together in hopes of a worthwhile bargain for four of the past five years. Last year, Pujalte missed out because of his work as a truck driver.

Jay Pujalte, a truck driver, looks at his newspaper advertisement for Black Friday "doorbuster" savings at the Best Buy store in Atwater Village, where he is camping out.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

They line up well before knowing what the sales will be. Usually, the store’s employees “don’t release the [details] until” 3:30 p.m. or so, only 90 minutes before doors open.

On Thursday, two Best Buy workers — accompanied by a security guard — passed out pamphlets highlighting deals to those waiting in a line that numbered over 200.


Though crowds still line up on Thanksgiving afternoon, they’re not the only ones seeking savings on Thursday. Adobe predicts that e-commerce sales on Thanksgiving will total $2.8 billion, an increase of 15% compared with last year.

Black Friday online sales are projected at $5 billion, a 16.4% increase from the previous day a year earlier.

Analysts and industry trackers expect increased holiday sales this year because of higher consumer confidence and employment gains.

The National Retail Federation trade association forecast a jump in retail sales in November and December of between 3.6% and 4%, or $678.75 billion to $682 billion, up from $655.8 billion last year.


“I think we’re going to see a healthy weekend,” said Paula Rosenblum, co-founder and managing partner at Retail Systems Research.

San Fernando resident Irma Mosqueda, 52, was pleased with the price of the TV she purchased at the Kohl’s in Sun Valley — at $299 it was $100 less than the list price — and she had a $60 voucher. But savings weren’t her main motivation.

In her eighth year of Thanksgiving weekend shopping, she says, “It’s more for the custom than it is for necessity.

“It’s for the joy of coming to buy,” she said.


Joanne Leibowitz, on the other hand, set out with a target in mind.

Leibowitz, her husband, Grant, and their 1-year-old daughter waited about six hours outside the Atwater Best Buy to snag two Apple MacBooks. Leibowitz, a 32-year-old make-up artist from Silver Lake who is nearly six months pregnant, spent much of that time in a lawn chair, moving when the line did.

The wait — and their decision to eat Thanksgiving dinner earlier in the week — was worth it, as they found the laptop deal they were seeking.

The aisles are gridlocked as customers maneuver shopping carts filled with large flat screen TVs at Best Buy in Atwater Village.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times )

Others, however, came away empty-handed.

Katrina Lopez, 31, waited outside the Toys R Us in Burbank for two hours, determined to buy Fingerlings — robotic monkey toys that attach to the finger.

Among the holiday season’s hottest gifts, Fingerlings were out of stock at the other stores and websites Lopez checked.

So the Valley Village woman spent the last week calling various Toys R Us locations at 9 a.m. each day to ask about the plaything. She was told the Burbank retailer would have them on Thursday.


Minutes before the store opened, however, a sales associate walked out and said it would not stock the monkeys until Sunday, eliciting groans from the crowd.

“I am so mad right now,” she said.

Lopez plans to be back in line at 8 a.m. Sunday.

Times staff writer Samantha Masunaga contributed to this report.