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Black Friday is turning into Black Thanksgiving.

Retailers, in their never-ending effort to pump up their all-important holiday sales, are starting their Black Friday sales earlier than ever this year, with a growing number of sales spilling over into Thanksgiving.

If you want to snag a doorbuster deal at Target or Walmart, you'd better plan on skipping your Thanksgiving dessert, because both of those retailers announced last week that their Black Friday deals will begin on Thanksgiving evening, punching a huge hole into Thanksgiving's traditional role as a family holiday.

And if shoppers wolf down their turkey dinners and show up in droves to snag that $149 Xbox 360 bundle that's part of Walmart's 8 p.m. doorbusters, or the $349 Westinghouse 50-inch LCD television that Target will start selling at 9 p.m., you can bet that the holdouts who aren't kicking off their own Black Friday sales until the stroke of midnight will be thinking long and hard about opening on Thanksgiving evening next year, too.

“Thanksgiving is turning into a shopping holiday where retailers are opening their doors earlier and earlier every year,” said Dan de Grandpre, chief executive of online deal site dealnews.com.

“Because of the timeliness of Walmart's Black Friday release, it's too late for other retailers to play catch up,” he said. “However, expect retailers in 2013 to copy what Walmart is doing in 2012.”

In the hunt for holiday sales, nothing is sacred, not even Thanksgiving.

You could see it coming, too. Walmart started its doorbusters last year at 10 p.m., its first encroachment on Thanksgiving. Other retailers, from Macy's to Kohl's to Target and Best Buy, stayed closed on Thanksgiving, but pushed their opening time to midnight to squeeze every last minute of shopping time out of Black Friday.

Last year, 24 percent of Black Friday shoppers were at stores by midnight, compared with just 9 percent in 2010, when most retailers waited until the wee hours of the morning (3 a.m. to 5 a.m.) to open their doors, said Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation.

This year, the action starts on Thanksgiving. Sears, for the first time, is opening its stores at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, joining its sister company, Kmart, the granddaddy of Thanksgiving shopping, which has opened on the holiday for the last 21 years.

Toys R Us once again will open on Thanksgiving, throwing its doors open at 9 p.m. More than 1,100 Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic stores will be open on Thanksgiving. Michael's craft stores are opening at 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

In Niagara Falls, the Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls, is opening at 10 p.m. for the second straight year and hosting a tailgate party in its parking lot beginning at 9 p.m., said Julie Clark, the mall's marketing manager. Shoppers planning to take a catnap for a couple of hours after dinner can even sign up to get a wake-up text message from the mall.

“It's become such a traditional event,” Clark said. “We're calling it our fashionably late sale.”

Meanwhile, a number of big retailers – from Kohl's to Macy's to Best Buy – are sticking with what they did last year by opening at the stroke of midnight.

Walmart also is upping the ante on Black Friday doorbusters this year by guaranteeing that shoppers who are in line for three of its electronics doorbusters between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving are guaranteed to get them. Even if a Walmart store runs out of the $38 LG Blu-ray player or the 32-inch Emerson LCD television for $148 or the $75 Walmart gift card that comes with the purchase of a 16-GB Apple iPad 2, shoppers still will be able to pay for those items and have them shipped to the store in time for Christmas.

But there's no denying that Thanksgiving is becoming a more significant day for holiday shopping. Last year, almost 29 million people shopped on Thanksgiving, according to the National Retail Federation. That was only a third of the 86 million people who shopped on Black Friday, but it's a big increase from just three years ago, when Thanksgiving foot traffic was less than a quarter of Black Friday's horde.

So retailers are scrambling to get a head start on what ShopperTrak, which measures retail foot traffic, says is the busiest shopping day of the year, with consumers spending an estimated $11.4 billion last year, almost 7 percent more than in 2010. The Saturday before Christmas is the second-busiest shopping day, and six of the top 10 sales days during the 2011 holiday season fell during the eight days prior to Christmas.

Even so, retailers have been dangling more and more sales before consumers throughout November in an effort to get them to start buying earlier. More than 40 percent of consumers say they start their holiday shopping before Halloween, the retail federation said.

“Consumers are increasingly viewing Black Friday as irrelevant: They start looking earlier and buying later, and are moving online,” according to a report by consulting firm Booz & Co. “As a result, retailers are discounting even earlier, seeking to convert these early shoppers.”

That's especially apparent online, where Internet retailers are offering a steady stream of “pre-Black Friday” sales, and those deals often are just as good as what shoppers will find in stores on Black Friday. Dealnews.com found that 70 percent of the in-store deals at Target and Walmart on Black Friday last year were available online, either on Thanksgiving or Black Friday, for the same price or less.

“Stores are having sales year-round,” said Arun Jain, a University at Buffalo marketing professor. “For the average customer, I'm not sure if Black Friday is the best time to shop.”

Not to mention that you'll get to enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner and some family time, too.

email: drobinson@buffnews.com