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Stores open for those who just couldn't wait until Black Friday

Eager customers crowded malls throughout Southern California on Thanksgiving night, sneaking in a serving of shopping between the turkey and pie.

Many lined up early to get a crack at doorbuster specials. At Westfield Culver City, about 400 were queued up outside JCPenney before the store opened at 3 p.m. Customers tired of standing were perched on overturned shopping carts, while others dragged along strollers and, in one case, a pair of crutches.

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Aleyda Rodas, 49, was in line by noon for what would be her first Thanksgiving Day shopping experience. Her goal was to snag a free gift card offered to JCPenney early birds, spend no more than $100 and hurry home for Thanksgiving dinner.

Despite the hassle of spending a chunk of her holiday standing in line, Rodas prefers shopping in person to shopping online. "Online seems better in that I don't have to come wait in line," the West Los Angeles resident said. "But then if it doesn't fit, I waste more time later."

J.C. Penney Co. is one of several retailers that have pushed Black Friday sales into Thursday to compete with e-commerce and bricks-and-mortar rivals. At 5 p.m., Macy’s, Best Buy and Toys R Us kicked off their doorbuster sales.

For retailers, the holiday season is crucial, with November and December accounting for as much as 40% of annual revenue. The National Retail Federation predicts sales in those months will grow 3.6% to $655.8 billion, up slightly from the same period in 2015.

With an uneven year so far for many retailers, analysts say it's hard to predict how the holiday season will shake out.

"It's still really choppy," said Charlie O'Shea, lead retail analyst at Moody's Investors Service. "You have lower to middle income consumers still stressed."

Concerning shoppers is a sense of uncertainty after the presidential election and higher mortgage rates, O'Shea said. Even low gasoline prices have not kicked consumer spending into higher gear, as previously predicted. O'Shea said the holiday season will prove better than last year. How much better, he said, is still to be seen.

Many Americans began shopping early Thursday from their couches. Target Chief Executive Brian Cornell said that the retailer's website saw double-digit sales and traffic growth on Thanksgiving compared with last year.

"It very well could be one of the biggest if not the biggest day online," Cornell said in a Thursday night conference call. However, he added, "the majority of shopping is still done in store" during the holidays.

Deal hunters begin the holiday shopping season at JCPenney at Westfield Culver City.
Deal hunters begin the holiday shopping season at JCPenney at Westfield Culver City. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Sally Rocha, 62, got in line outside the JCPenney at Westfield Culver City half an hour before the doors opened. An hour later, Rocha — along with her husband, son, daughter and daughter's boyfriend — were heading home.

Rocha, a Culver City resident and seasoned Black Friday shopper, said they had come just for the coupons. Each got a $10 card, which they planned to spend later. Rocha said she would shop in earnest Friday, hitting up Target, Kohl's and JCPenney.

Her husband, Bill, said he was a more reluctant shopper.

He "didn't want to sleep on the couch tonight," he said, before adding that the family was shopping "for fun," not "for the need."

Anthony Murphy, who supervises mobile sales at the Best Buy at Westfield Culver City, said he doesn't mind working on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, as he has for the last four years.

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"Of course you get your cranky customers now and then, but for the most part it's pretty chill," Murphy said.

The 30-year-old Inglewood resident ate a Thanksgiving meal with his family around 1 p.m. Work started at 2:30 p.m. and wouldn't end until 1 a.m. On Black Friday, he starts at 5 a.m.

"I'm probably not even going to go home," he said. "I'll sleep in the back."

As afternoon turned to evening, stores got busier — filled, presumably, by shoppers heading out after their Thanksgiving feast. But with careful planning, some deal seekers got a head start on both holiday traditions.

Glendale resident Noemy Loya, 33, got to Target early enough to be second in line. That's partly because her family prepared a Thanksgiving meal — with honey-baked ham, chicken from El Pollo Loco, green bean casserole and mashed potatoes — on Wednesday night so they could dedicate Thursday to shopping. After three years, it's become something of a tradition.

Her husband, Jose Loya, an order selector for Unified Grocers, got the holiday started after wrapping up the graveyard shift Wednesday night.

"I had my Thanksgiving plate this morning when I got home," he said while in line.

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UPDATES:

9 p.m.: This story was updated with an analyst's comment.

6:58 p.m.: This story was updated with additional reporting from Target.

6:30 p.m.: This story was updated to include additional reporting from the Glendale Target.

5:35 p.m.: This story was updated with additional reporting after stores opened their doors on Thanksgiving Day.

This article was originally published at 4:50 p.m.

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