Roseann Gambino didn't even get a chance to take a nap before her 38th Black Friday.
Gambino, the manager of the Macy's store in the Walden Galleria in Cheektowaga, had Thanksgiving dinner at her house, and by 10 p.m., she was at work to get ready for the store's midnight opening.
“If you're in retailing, you have to look forward to the biggest day of the year,” Gambino said Friday morning, after the initial crush of early bird shoppers had gone home and a new daytime wave was filing in. “This is our Super Bowl.”
Indeed it is. With the economy still fragile, retailers have a lot riding on the holiday shopping season.
With consumers accounting for about 70 percent of the nation's economic activity, how much they spend — and where they spend it — will determine whether the holiday season is a bright one for retailers, like Macy's.
With the stakes so high, retailers have been steadily blurring the lines between Black Friday and Thanksgiving, with stores like Walmart, Target and Toys R Us opening on Thanksgiving evening.
“Everybody hopes that by opening earlier, they're going to catch the crowd,” said Arun Jain, a University at Buffalo marketing professor.
But it's not just when the stores open that matters. The rush to catch the crowd this year meant that more Black Friday deals were available online days before Thanksgiving. And by now, sales are the norm for shoppers: Stores have been holding Black Friday-like promotions all month.
Shoppers like Pam Spinder of West Seneca were taking full advantage on Friday. Beyond the sales, Spinder cashed in coupons for additional discounts at Sears and Bed Bath and Beyond.
“Everything we got at Bon-Ton was a doorbuster,” said her daughter, Ashlee Miller.
When we spoke, Miller and Spinder were taking a break from their shopping in the McKinley Mall food court. They had a notebook on the table and were going over the shopping list that they'd prepared the night before after poring over the Black Friday sale ads.
“We have dinner. Then we sit down and we write down when the stores open, what we want and where it is,” Spinder said.
Gambino thinks shoppers are more prepared than ever.
“The customer came in doing their homework. They knew where they wanted to go, where the best buys were in the store,” she said. “I know they did comparative shopping. I think they're very educated and they've mapped out where they're going.”
Macy's had 800 people set to work at its Galleria store to staff the round-the-clock Black Friday, double and possibly triple what its staff would be on a typical summer Saturday, Gambino said.
“We plan all year for this. It's always in the back of your mind how you can do better next year,” she said. “It's something you look forward to. You know how important the day is and you always want to exceed your expectations.”
Despite the hype, Shannon Gawlick of North Boston wasn't tempted enough by the deals to come out for the door-opening frenzy. “Usually, we come out at 3:30 in the morning, but there was nothing on the front pages” of the ads this year that jumped out at her.
Instead, Gawlick and her mother started shopping at the McKinley Mall around sunrise on Friday, but it still didn't take long before they'd filled a shopping cart with purchases.
Retail experts think the holiday shopping season will be pretty good, with most projections calling for sales in November and December to rise by somewhere around 3 percent to 4 percent. Still, that's a little less than last year's 5.1 percent increase, and the National Retail Federation predicted that traffic at stores during the holiday weekend would be down slightly from last year.
But the Black Friday weekend can be pivotal. Last year, it accounted for more than 11 percent of all holiday spending, according to the retail federation.
That's why many retail experts expect Black Friday to continue to morph into Black Thursday. If Walmart opens at 8 p.m. and grabs its fair share of customers, the pressure will mount on holdouts like Macy's, Kohl's and Best Buy to open earlier so those early birds don't get the jump on them again.
“If anything changes market-wise, I'm sure they would consider going into Thanksgiving,” said Jeff Lentsch, the manager of the Kohl's store in Orchard Park. “Thankfully, they don't right now,” said Lentsch, who has 20 Black Fridays under his belt. “I think where we're at is probably really good.”
Not everyone is a fan of the extended hours. More than 130 petitions asking retailers to scale back their holiday hours were posted this year at Change.org, a website that allows activists to post online petitions and gather digital signatures for them.
But Gambino said the longer hours are giving shoppers more options.
“I think it depends on what type of shopper you are,” she said. “There's the customer who will come out at midnight. Then there's the customer who comes out in the wee hours of the morning. Then we'll have our afternoon shoppers and our evening shoppers. It just depends on what their habits are.”
And for retailers, the stakes aren't getting any smaller.
“It's like a wedding,” Lentsch said. “You plan for months and then it's over in a matter of hours.”