Victims of Superstorm Sandy in the US northeast were comforted by free holiday meals and front-row seats to New York City’s annual Thanksgiving holiday parade.
The parade, attended by more than 3 million people and watched by 50 million on TV, included such giant balloons as Hello Kitty, Buzz Lightyear and Sailor Mickey Mouse. Real-life stars included Canadian singer Carly Rae Jepsen.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was reflective as he praised police, firefighters, armed services personnel, sanitation workers and volunteers involved in the response to the storm, which left more than 100 dead in the region. The disaster-hit areas were flooded, this time with food and volunteers.
“We had three carloads of food,” volunteer Beth Fernandez said. “It’s really cool. It’s my best, my favorite Thanksgiving ever.” Across the country, other cities offered a mix of holiday cheer and acts of charity.
Meanwhile, many in the US chose to get an even earlier jump on Christmas shopping, even if that meant sleeping on the sidewalk outside stores.
The early morning shopping chaos that has become a day-after-Thanksgiving tradition crept back this year to eat into Thanksgiving Day itself. What was known as Black Friday — the day when stores traditionally turn a profit for the year — started on Thursday evening in many places.
When Macy’s opened its doors in New York City at midnight, 11,000 shoppers showed up. Target Corp opened its doors at 9pm on Thursday, three hours earlier than last year. Sears, which did not open on Thanksgiving last year, opened at 8pm.
About 17 percent of shoppers said earlier this month that they planned to shop at stores that opened on Thanksgiving, according to an International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs survey of 1,000 consumers.
Overall, it is estimated that sales on Black Friday will be up 3.8 percent to US$11.4 billion this year.
Michael Prothero, 19, and Kenny Fullenlove, 20, missed Thanksgiving dinner altogether. They started camping out on Monday night outside a Best Buy store in Ohio, which was scheduled to open at midnight.
Americans have grown more comfortable shopping online, which has put pressure on stores, which can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue during the two-month holiday shopping season, to compete. That is becoming more difficult. The National Retail Federation, an industry trade group, estimates that overall sales in this month and next month will rise 4.1 percent this year to US$586.1 billion, or about flat with last year’s growth. However, the online part of that is expected to rise 15 percent to US$68.4 billion, according to Forrester Research.
“Every retailer wants to beat everyone else,” said Britt Beemer, chairman of America’s Research Group, a research firm. “Shoppers love it.”
Indeed, there were 11 shoppers in a four-tent encampment outside one Best Buy store in Michigan. A US$179 Toshiba LCD television was worth missing Thanksgiving dinner at home.
“We’ll miss the actual being there with family, but we’ll have the rest of the weekend for that,” said Jackie Berg, 26, who arrived on Wednesday afternoon.
Some workers were expected to protest the Thanksgiving hours. A New York City-based, union-backed group of retail workers called Retail Action Project planned protests in front of several stores, including AnnTaylor, Forever 21 and others that were opening at midnight on Black Friday and earlier.
“It shows that the companies are not valuing their workers. They’re looking to their workers to squeeze out more profits,” Retail Action Project director Carrie Gleason said.
Wal-Mart Stores, the world’s largest retailer, has been one of the biggest targets of protests against holiday hours. Many of the company’s stores are open 24 hours, but the company was offering early bird specials that once were reserved for Black Friday at 8pm on Thanksgiving instead.
A union-backed group called OUR Walmart, which includes former and current workers, was staging demonstrations and walkouts at hundreds of stores on Black Friday.
However, retailers said they are giving shoppers what they want. Dave Tovar, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said the discounter learned from shoppers that they want to start shopping right after Thanksgiving dinner. Then they want time to sleep before they wake up and head back to the stores.