While some Long Islanders dined and then dashed to get on line for the evening openings of malls or stand-alone big-box stores, the hard-core bargain hunters skipped Thanksgiving dinners altogether to line up at breakfast time.
Merchants have been eager to win a larger share of shoppers' limited wallets, and many began offering holiday deals weeks ago. A slower-than-expected back-to-school season, price-conscious consumers and six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas have put pressure on retailers.
Many retailers decided to launch what they said were their biggest sales events of the year Thursday -- on Thanksgiving evening or even earlier in the day -- instead of at midnight or in the early morning hours of Black Friday -- the day after Thanksgiving and the traditional start to the holiday shopping season.
"People get so pumped up for it," said Alan Yamaji, the store team leader of the new Huntington Station Target and a veteran of Black Friday events. "They see that TV they want, and they get obsessed."
By 4 p.m. there were already about 200 people on line at the Best Buy store in Westbury.
Long wait for video gameBaris Akkaya, 14, of Elmont got on the line at 8 a.m. with an adult neighbor, Fiore Persichilli, and a friend, Berkan Kumas, 14. It was the first time any of them had gone shopping on Thanksgiving. Each wanted to buy the new Xbox One video game system -- a special promotion item that would not go on sale until midnight.
There were already more than a dozen people on line in front of them, the first having arrived at 7 a.m., 11 hours before the store would open.
Baris said he has a 5-year-old, first-generation Xbox model, so "I've got to upgrade."
"We've been sleeping in our chairs and listening to music," Baris said. Persichilli added, "Yeah, it's cold. You have to bundle up," pulling up Berkan's pants leg to show he was not wearing socks with his sneakers. "We're taking turns going into Dunkin' Donuts to get coffee or read a book" to warm up.
"We're going to get a good deal," Persichilli said. "We'll save a couple hundred dollars on each one."
Even though they would have to wait six more hours after the store opened to get their desired item, Baris said that wasn't a problem because at least "we can wait inside."
Other Thanksgiving shoppers said they weren't out for bargains.
"It's not crowded -- this is lovely," said Audrey D'Alto, 54, of Bethpage, now a Thanksgiving shopping fan after having several aisles to herself at 3 p.m. at the West Babylon Kmart that had opened at 6 a.m. "Let them stay home and cook their turkeys and I'll shop."
Nearly a quarter of shoppers nationwide, or about 33 million, said they were going to hit the stores Thursday, according to a survey from the National Retail Federation. But Friday is still expected to draw the most traffic with 69.1 percent of shoppers, or 97 million, saying they plan to shop.
Last year, Long Island's holiday season was disrupted by superstorm Sandy, which gave merchants dealing in durable goods a boost but hurt others selling more discretionary gift items.
"Long Island has had pretty good success this year," said Al Ferrara, national director of retail for BDO USA, a Chicago-based consulting firm. "Its economy is in decent shape, you might see a major positive uptick" in holiday sales.
Feeling 'guilty,' 'bad'But with more stores opening each Thanksgiving, many shoppers said they felt "guilty" or "bad" shopping. They believe stores should be closed because the holiday should be spent with family, not ringing up people's purchases.
Lynn McVeety, an educator from Babylon, who went to the East Farmingdale Walmart for a can of paint and, not finding the right type, spent $350 on supplies, said she felt bad for the workers: "It's gotten to be a day of craziness, shopping and consumerism."
Both shoppers and retailers have been preparing for this event. Consumers now have the advantage of mobile devices and numerous apps that allow them to comparison shop and find low prices.
McVeety's a fan of all this, especially of apps that let her know about store bargains wherever she goes. "It'll tell you about products that are really good deals and stores that have coupons," she said.
And there is physical preparation. At the Huntington Station Target, employees have been running drills, training to respond to the call button on the sales floor in less than 60 seconds and guide people to lines so there is little or no wait to check out.
Many retailers are offering online sales as well, hoping to capture those who opt to shop from home and even some who decide to do both.
They include Kakita Moore, 34, of Wheatley Heights, whose strategy was to have her smartphone while her sister brought her laptop to take advantage of online deals as they waited to get into Walmart and Macy's after their Thanksgiving dinner.
With Bill Bleyer and Ellen Yan