MANATEE -- Thanksgiving has become more than a day to sit around the dinner table with family friends as traditions of early bird shopping for Black Friday deals have become part of the day set aside to give thanks.
There are plenty of businesses that call it a moral decision to ensure its employees are off for Thanksgiving, but others have a different philosophy.
Ellenton Premium Outlets Director of Marketing and Business Development Sara Ozgun said the mall provides both service and entertainment and as such, should make those two things available to its customers.
"Being a large attraction that provides service and entertainment, we serve those families who are looking for things to do together and many are starting a tradition of shopping together," said Ozgun. "What we see mainly with Thanksgiving and Black Friday, it's a tradition of eating dinner as a family and going shopping afterwards, whether it's just the girls getting together or the whole family. A lot of times these families have college students visiting home and they want to get out and do something."
The mall has been starting Black Friday sales early for several years. They used to open at midnight and then went to 8 p.m. with some select stores opening at 6 p.m. Ozgun said it seemed to make sense to have the entire mall open at 6 p.m., "because people were getting done shopping and then waiting outside the stores that opened at 8 p.m. We do this out of customer response because it's what they want."
Kathy Brown, who arrived for the 6 p.m. opening three hours early, couldn't agree more.
"It's better and safer," said Brown who had family stationed outside of Coach waiting for a 70 percent sale on purses. "People have jobs and it's a chance to get the deals and still get home and in bed at a reasonable hour. People also have to work on Friday and they lose out on Black Friday deals so this gives everyone an opportunity to get in on the deals."
Brown said she feels for the employees who have to work on Thanksgiving to make that happen, but noted that it's nice that sales started at 6 p.m, -- not 6 a.m.
"I'm sure they all had a wonderful day with their families today," she said.
Ozgun said the Bradenton Convention and Visitors Bureau has done well in marketing to European countries. The mall, she said, is a microcosm of that success.
"We have a fair amount of international guests in this area, particularly from Germany, Switzerland and Sweden," she said. "A pair of Levis might cost them $100 at home, so they love being able to come here and get a great deal on a pair for $35. We've really seen a pick up in international shoppers the last couple of years and we are reaping the benefits of the CVB doing a great job."
Seranya Oruganti, arrived with a friend from the New Tampa area. It was her first Black Friday sale in America and she was first in line outside of Michael Kors after arriving an hour early. She had heard all of the horror stories associated with people fighting or getting trampled in Black Friday sales. But the mood at the mall was serene as no more than 20 people gathered in lines at various stores, with hundreds more patiently wandering the mall with coffee in hand or visiting the food court.
"I heard a lot about these sales from my friends, but now I'm wondering if they were joking," said Oruganti. "I'm excited to be here and learn all about the deals they have and I'm looking for handbags and watches."
The Ellenton mall's sale stretches for 20 straight hours. The mall opened at 6 p.m. and won't close again until 10 p.m. Friday. Ozgun said the long sale alleviates the crowds, but just to be sure, is offering a valet service this year just outside of Coach.
"We'll see thousands and thousands of people by the time we are done," she said.
Over in Bradenton, Bealls also participates in the 6 p.m. Thanksgiving opening and features special "Beall Ringer" deals at various times through the Black Friday sales event.
Director of public and government affairs, Bill Webster, said the response to opening up on Thanksgiving evening "has been really big. We've had a tremendous response from our customers. We do various giveaways and promotions that are timed for different hours so those deals are steady for people who can come to one event if they can't come to another."
On top of tremendous weekend deals, Cyber Monday is just around the corner and Bealls will offer an additional 25 percent off of selected items by entering the code word "CYBER." Free shipping also is being offered on hundreds of online only door busters.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter@urbanmark2014.