Bolingbrook resident Jennifer Peterson (left) and her mother Christine Burris (right), of Wilmington, make the second journey back to their car to drop off purchases while shopping at Louis Joliet Mall Friday, Nov. 23, 2012, in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 26, 2012 6:33AM
JOLIET — Black Friday sales have crept so far into Thanksgiving Day that not only isn’t there much time left for the traditional family gathering, but there seems to be little energy left for shopping by the time the sun rises Friday.
Or maybe little reason.
“There’s not many sales,” Diana Viveros of Joliet said at 7:30 a.m. on Black Friday at Louis Joliet Mall.
The mall and other stores in the Joliet area were oddly uncrowded once daylight arrived on Black Friday morning.
Oddly because even as Black Friday hours started earlier and earlier in recent years, there still was a holiday shopping bustle at the mall in the morning. But this year, most mall stores opened at midnight. Sears, like many of its competitors, went so far as to open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
JCPenney bucked the trend by opening at what used to be considered the unthinkable hour of 6 a.m. That’s where Viveros was, and she was in a long line that showed a store could still draw a crowd if it had the right prices, even if it opened later than competitors.
JCPenney store manager Mark Strand said the store associates enjoyed being able to have Thanksgiving dinner without rushing off to work.
“We all want happy employees,” Strand said.
His comment may reflect the Christmas spirit, but it hardly reflects the Black Friday trend.
Whether retail employees are happy about it or not, more of them are answering the call to work on one of the busiest shopping days of the year before Thanksgiving Day is over. It may just be a matter of time before Thanksgiving Day sales pass Black Friday if stores keep opening earlier.
At a Walmart store in Joliet, more than 25 protesters picketed along Jefferson Street on behalf of store employees who, they said, were underpaid.
The picketers did not focus on Walmart employees working Thanksgiving.
But thinking about that motivated Bill Hincks of Joliet to come out and join the protest.
“We talked about it last night at dinner,” Hincks said. “We’re having Thanksgiving dinner, and they’re going in (to work) for straight time.”
Joe Stupec said the protest was held at 9 a.m. on Friday to send a message to the company.
“Today is the day to get their attention,” he said.
But if Stupec and others from Northern Illinois Jobs With Justice want to get attention next year, they, too, may have to give up part of their Thanksgiving. By the time the picketers showed up, the Walmart parking lot was half-empty, showing that the holiday bustle already had been there. Lines at the cash registers were probably shorter than on a normal Friday.
Erin French of Lockport was one of those who started her shopping at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. She also was at JCPenney for the store’s 6 a.m. opening, but French said she was about done.
“We went out, and then we went home and went to sleep, and now we’re out again,” French said.
Out in the mall at 8 a.m., Alex Munir at the Always Cellular kiosk had time to talk to a reporter since there were few customers passing by. It was different at midnight, when a long line of people stretched out from the Macy’s entrance, Munir said.
“Right now, it’s slow,” he said.
It was slow enough that a reporter could get a cup of coffee at the Gloria Jean’s cafe in the mall commons area without anyone ahead of him.
Sitting at one of the tables were Keith Flynn and Terry Miller-Flynn of Crest Hill with their friend, Veatrice Smith of Westmont.
The Flynns acknowledged that they had to break away from the Thanksgiving gathering early — 5 p.m. — to start their annual shopping adventure. But they pointed to some of the nice parts of Black Friday shopping.
“You make a lot of friends on Black Friday,” Miller-Flynn said, noting that there’s more cooperation among the shoppers than competition for bargains.
“I have seen it changing over the years,” said Smith, who believes shoppers are becoming friendlier with each other.
Flynn said the main sore point among shoppers standing in line as early as 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving was that they had to cut their dinner short to get to the store for the best prices.
Back at JCPenney, Kevin Collins of Joliet said the store was his first and last stop of the day. Retail workers, Collins said, are not the only ones getting less Thanksgiving these days.
“People are losing the holiday,” he said. “They’re not staying at home as much. They’re going out to the stores.”