Kings and queens of holiday shopping compete for deals on Thanksgiving

Many items to be discounted late Thanksgiving Day at a Walmart in Elk Grove were guarded by employees earlier that afternoon, so the photograph a girl texted to her mother of a Nintendo game console in her possession suggested she was living up to her family’s enterprising standards.

The clerk working an afternoon shift at the 24-hour store was distracted “so I just grabbed it,” said MacKenzie Weber, who is 14 and wore pink hair.

Her mother, Danielle Silva, yelled, “Good job, Mac!” before calling the friend who had entrusted Silva to retrieve the Nintendo 2DS.

“Who’s the queen?” Silva said.

If there was a title for such shopping on Black Friday – or on Thursday, as stores open earlier and earlier – Silva would be a contender. The 36-year-old from Galt, who owns an embroidery and custom printing business, has been shopping post-Thanksgiving Day sales for more than a decade and said she has never been outmaneuvered by another consumer.

She printed a T-shirt for the occasion that read, “Whatever you’re here to get, I just got the last one.”

Her daughters, MacKenzie and Cheryl Weber, 16, have joined Silva for this annual exertion since they were old enough to keep their Christmas purchases a secret. MacKenzie’s first year is memorialized on her T-shirt, which says she has been “swiping your door buster since 2012.”

The girl abandoned her mother and their shopping cart to retrieve a handful of CDs. While other shoppers crowded each other in the music aisle, MacKenzie said, “being shorter than everyone … you can just crawl on the floor.”

Silva and her daughters expected to spend nearly 10 hours at the Walmart on Thursday, fueling their activity with 32-ounce drinks from McDonald’s.

Millions of Americans were expected to shop on the holiday, with stores opening earlier than in previous years. Macy’s, Target, Kohl’s and J.C. Penney all opened at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, and Toys R Us opened at 5 p.m.

While Silva and her daughters celebrated Walmart victories, about 200 people waited in line outside a nearby Toys R Us. Like Silva, many were parents hoping to save money on Christmas presents, or they were worried limited quantities would leave them empty-handed on Christmas Eve.

Brian Pepper, 35, waited more than two hours on the sidewalk outside Toys R Us to buy a “Skylanders SWAP Force” video game for his 9-year-old son. He was 10th in line. The woman in front of him, Angelina Botelho, wanted the “Disney Infinity” game for her 10-year-old daughter, and the “Dancing Dave” doll for her other daughter, who is 2.

Botelho had sent her husband to Walmart and recruited her 15-year-old son Anthony to join her at the toy store.

“We have an attack,” she said. “He’s going to go back to get the ‘Infinity’ first, and I’m going to get the ‘Dave.’”

Five minutes before opening the doors an employee yelled, “We want everybody to be safe tonight ... No running, no pushing.”

Retailers are closely watching consumers’ activity this weekend, with economic indicators mixed ahead of a holiday shopping season shortened by the late Thanksgiving. The stock market is surging and the U.S. Department of Labor reported the number of Americans seeking jobless benefits fell last week, but the public may still be wary. The Conference Board said Tuesday that its consumer confidence index, after dropping sharply in October, declined again this month.

Shoppers in Elk Grove reported a more relaxed post-Thanksgiving experience at stores than in previous years, in part because of smaller crowds and in part because of improved crowd control by retailers. At Walmart, for example, shoppers who lined up early were given wristbands so they could return later for big-ticket items.

“This year is a lot easier,” said Annie Tang, a hairstylist from Sacramento who was at Walmart pushing a cart full of books, toys and clothes for her daughters.

Still, the earlier store openings have drawn criticism from traditionalists who resent the encroachment on the holiday, with some retailers seizing on that sentiment to assert a moral high ground.

“Closed on Thanksgiving Day so that our employees may enjoy time with their families and friends,” said one newspaper ad for department store chain Dillard’s, which has a location in Stockton.

Down the road from Walmart, Mike Holton set up Christmas trees Thursday at Dave’s Christmas Trees in Elk Grove, anticipating a rush of customers today.

Holton, an owner of the business, rubbed sap from his hands and prepared to leave for Thanksgiving dinner with his family. It was early afternoon and he still could make it, but he lamented what the night had in store for clerks at Walmart, Best Buy and other retailers.

“I wish they would keep it just one day of rest,” Holton said. “Just give ’em one day. Not so much for the people going shopping, but for the people who have to work.”