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Whether they were Canadians playing hookey from work or local residents interrupting traditional Thanksgiving Day meals, bargain hunters at various area retail outlets Thursday were determined not to pass up a good deal, even if it meant being queued up for hours in temperatures that dipped into the mid-20s.

And more shoppers were out again this morning.

Nancy Deuser, of Cheektowaga, was dressed in layers, a hooded garment and wrapped in a fleece blanket, as she waited outside the Best Buy store at Walden Galleria for the chance to save $100 on the purchase of a Kindle electronic reader for her granddaughter. Deuser said she celebrated Thanksgiving with her family Wednesday to ensure she had time to shop Thursday and had no regrets about waiting in the cold.

“No, it’s not too bad,” Deuser said, as she wrapped the blanket tighter to brace against the chill.

“If it’s for my grandkids, it’s definitely worth it,” she added.

Despite criticism about the commercialization of Thanksgiving and outrage about stores that would make employees work through the holiday, thousands of shoppers lined up at area malls looking for deals on everything from toasters and toys to tablets and TVs.

In fact, Thanksgiving Day shopping has become a family tradition for brothers Tyler and Brandon Baxter, and their sister, Sharonnda, all of whom reside in Buffalo’s University District.

“We don’t really have family traditions, and this is just something that we started doing together as siblings every year,” said Sharonnda, as she and her brothers waited for hours outside the Target store off Walden Avenue in Cheektowaga for what they described as a substantial bargain on a large, flatscreen TV.

“I’d rather freeze for five hours than miss out on saving $200,” said Tyler, who, along with his siblings, delayed their Thanksgiving meal until after they were done bargain shopping.

“See, my stomach is growling right now, but I’m surviving,” said Brandon, with a wry smile.

Today, Black Friday, is the traditional kickoff to the holiday shopping season. But Black Friday’s thunder has been all but stolen by retailers looking to drum up sales as early as possible, especially with this year’s short shopping season between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But it remains to be seen whether the early start will actually drive consumers to spend more, or whether shoppers will spend the same amount over the two days.

“The length of the season is increasingly more meaningless,” said Michael Niemira, chief economist and director of research at the International Council of Shopping Centers Inc. “Consumers can shop 24 hours a day, if they would like to.”

Niemira said he doubts the wisdom of the earlier openings, because they tend to result in a lull later in the season.

Competitive pressures have led retailers to open earlier and earlier, as stores try to one-up each other in hopes of getting shoppers into their stores first.

“Retailers even have said that is why they are opening on Thanksgiving Day – because their competition is doing so,” Niemira said.

Apparently, that sense of competition has even expanded across the international border, according to D.J. and Ashley Bloczyl,arr of Welland, Ont., who were doing some early Christmas shopping Thursday at the Kmart off Walden Avenue in Cheektowaga

“I know there’s enough Canadians coming over the border now that Canadian stores are starting to have their own Black Friday sales to try to keep Canadians on their side of the border,” said D.J. Bloczyl.

“And yet, they can’t even touch these prices,” added Ashley Bloczyl, regarding the various bargains she and her husband encountered in Buffalo Niagara.

Three sisters from Barrie and Orillia, Ont., who were also at the Kmart, agreed. The women – who would identify themselves only as Judy, Donna and Karen – said the local Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday bargains are so attractive that, annually, they’ve made it practice to stay in area hotels during the holiday weekend shopping frenzy so they don’t miss out.

As many as 140 million people are expected to shop this weekend, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation. That’s about 7 million fewer than last year.

Today is expected to bring the most traffic to retailers, with 69.1 percent of shoppers planning to visit stores, followed by Saturday (43.8 percent) and Sunday (24.2 percent).

There is no word yet on how many people cut Thanksgiving celebrations short to shop Thursday, but 23.5 percent of those surveyed earlier this week planned on doing so, according to the federation.

Local stores also got a bump in sales from Canadian consumers who crossed the border to shop. In fact, 41 percent more Canadians are expected to shop in the states this Black Friday weekend than last, spending an average of $292 each, according to a survey by Bank of Montreal.

Though Black Friday is often credited with being the busiest shopping day of the holiday season, that day actually falls much closer to the end of the season. This year, that day will most likely fall on the Saturday before Christmas, Dec. 21.

“Although it’s typical to see a lull after Thanksgiving, retailers know that there are plenty of procrastinators who will be looking for last-minute gifts,” said Kathy Grannis, of the National Retail Federation.

email: schristmann@buffnews.com and hmcneil@buffnews.com