Black Friday morphed into Black Thursday this year, and thousands of people went shopping after finishing Thanksgiving dinner.
The times at which stores opened and offered special deals got more complicated, with some opening early Thursday, some late Thursday and some early Friday.
For Steve Fusilier, being first in line at the Best Buy on Rock Road was “like being an animal observed at the zoo."
“People have asked to get their pictures taken with me and have taken videos of me sitting here," said Fusilier, a 42-year-old Wichita State student and a former Best Buy employee who had camped in front of the store since 9 a.m. Tuesday, anxious to get a 40-inch TV for $180.
Last year, when he experienced his first Black Friday as a shopper, he was too far back in line to get the deal he wanted. So this year, he made the decision to come early.
“I learned from my mistake," he said.
Fusilier is one of thousands of shoppers who descended on stores earlier than in years past since sales started on Thursday night at several national retailers.
The average holiday shopper spent $398.62 during the Thanksgiving weekend in 2011, with total spending reaching an estimated $52.4 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.
The federation estimates that 147 million Americans will shop in stores or online this weekend. It also estimates that total holiday sales for 2012 will increase 4.1 percent over last year, to $586.1 billion.
At Toys R Us, doors opened at 8 p.m., and Joy Smith of Hesston was first in line since noon Thursday to buy toys for her 3-year-old son, Adam.
"This is easy compared to Vegas," said Smith, who is originally from Las Vegas.
Toys R Us store manager Mike Brogdin said the line of hundreds outside was consistent with the last several years. This is the third year at Toys R Us for Brogdin, who said he’s never been shopping himself on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
For Jeff Wolfe and his wife Shannon of Conway Springs, a divide-and-conquer strategy is the only way to get through the night and early morning.
As Wolfe perused Lego sets at Toys R Us on Thursday night, his wife headed to Sears.
"We have five kids, so this is the only way you can save money," said Wolfe, who had been in line since 4 p.m.
One of Wolfe’s criteria for the toys he buys is that dad can play with them, too.
Outside of the Best Buy on Rock Road, it was like a tent city. Some shoppers had tents, lawn chairs or blankets. Others had guitars to play and books to pass the time. Brian Neas and his friend Eddy Meng had a hookah, which they shared with others as they waited.
"We just spread the love," Neas said.
At Cabela’s, the store opening Friday morning with specials and free stuff for the first 600 people in line at 5 a.m. The first person got there at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, and by 9:30 p.m. there were about 160 people in line, with more cars pulling into the parking lot all the time.
When asked why they thought sitting outside was a good idea, when temperatures were falling into the 50s with a steady wind, the answers varied:
“Nothing better to do,” said Chris Fooshee of Wichita.
“I didn’t have much else going on so I might as well stay up and make something of the night,” said Dustin Brandt of Wichita.
Tanner Oakleaf-Wilson said he and his buddies wanted to go shopping at Cabela’s anyway, so the chance for some goodies for free made it worthwhile.
And Elise Larson was there with her brothers and sisters, and they were all pumped.
“I’m here for the adventure,” she said. “I’ve never spent overnight for the opening of a store before. I’m excited.”
And at Gander Mountain, there were plenty of people skipping the traditional first helping of Thanksgiving leftovers and an old Disney movie to check out the hunting and fishing gear.
Tammey Walker of Hays was visiting family in Arkansas City but was lured to Wichita by the specials.
“We’re here,” she said, “but that doesn’t make shopping on Thanksgiving a good thing. But we felt that if we didn’t, we’d lose out.”
And Nathan Dudley of Junction City said he doesn’t mind Thanksgiving Day shopping but only for stuff he really likes.
“Any other kind of shopping, it would be a waste of time,” he said with a laugh.
Contributing: Dan Voorhis of The Eagle