Shoppers packed Bay Area malls for post-Thanksgiving deals Thursday and Friday, with waves of bargain buyers professing enthusiasm for their expeditions that began right after Turkey Day dinner had been consumed and continued through dawn.
The clock had yet struck 4 a.m. on Black Friday and the holiday chestnut "Silver Bells" filled the first floor of Macy's at Westfield Valley Fair in Santa Clara as a steady river of consumers -- weighed down as much by packages as a lack of sleep -- flowed through the department store.
San Jose resident Mario Garcia and his family, overstuffed bags at their feet, sat contentedly during a brief respite. Though dawn was hours away, they had already logged in some eight hours of shopping -- and had the spoils to show for it, including a Nikon camera for 50 percent off at $400, sheets that usually sell for $30 for $5, $60 video games for $10 each.
"We'll probably go until 6 in the morning" before calling it a night/day, he said.
These veteran door-buster shoppers said that while Black Friday hours have grown longer -- now stretching from early Friday morning to Thursday night -- their experience this year was the calmest yet.
"We didn't see the stampedes we saw in the past," said Garcia, whose family's first stops were Walmart and Best Buy. "They had a lot more security and barriers."
Westfield Valley Fair, which opened at midnight with a DJ and swarms of young people, at times resembled a party, some store employees said. Many young people appeared drunk and a few scuffles broke out, they said.
But the early morning hours of Friday were mainly for shoppers looking for bargains.
There appeared to more out earlier than ever before, said Andrew Locicero, a San Jose Police officer who has been stationed at Best Buy at Santana Row for a decade. Lines for the store's midnight opening stretched for five blocks or more, he said.
"These were our longest lines at Santana Row," Locicero said.
Many shoppers had detailed plans for hours of overnight adventures at different stores. As Shoppers filed into a Walmart store in Fremont on Thursday evening, looking for sales on consumer electronics items such as computers, tablets, video game consoles and television sets, many said they had a game plan for the rest of Thanksgiving night and Black Friday.
"After Walmart, I'm going to Target next," said Katrina Anderson, a Fremont resident. "Then I will be going to Babies R Us, Toys R Us. Eventually I will get to Sears and Home Depot."
As Friday was just beginning, Walmart said its stores rang up its best Black Friday sales ever nationwide -- The retailer said nearly 22 million shoppers clogged its aisles. Between 8 p.m. and midnight, Walmart processed nearly 10 million in-store transactions, selling nearly 5,000 items a second, the company said in a news release.
Fatigue didn't seem to phase some holiday shoppers.
"Oh, my God! It's 5 a.m.!" said Laura Chin, a graduate student in public administration visiting Westfield Valley Fair from Stockton. "It feels more like it's 1 or 2 a.m."
"It was worth it," said Tatiana Harrison, a Union City resident who had just finished shopping at a Target store in Fremont's Pacific Commons Mall Thursday night. She paid $99 for a Power Wheels toy vehicle that normally sells for $400.
The Target store in Fremont, though, was just the start of a shopping marathon for Harrison and her friend Brianna Curley of Union City. Their next stop was at a huge retail complex in Milpitas.
"We are off to the Great Mall," Curley said. "We will probably shop all night. We're going to all the stores at the Great Mall."
Eastridge Mall in San Jose, which normally opens at 5 a.m. on Black Friday, decided to go for a midnight opening this year, and General Manager Melanie Black said it had paid off with big crowds. "I was shocked," said Black, who's worked at the shopping center for 10 years.
Kiana Jackson, who with her mother Jackie opened a cupcake shop called Noonie Cakes in the food court two weeks ago, said it had been "kind of crazy seeing everybody pouring in" as the clock struck 12 a.m.
At some retailers — including hip clothier Hollister, which was offering 50 percent off the entire store — mall staffers had to set up crowd-control stanchions and limit how many shoppers could enter at a time, said Black. Sears, which was promoting a "door-buster" deal on electronics, still had a long line at 4 a.m., she added.
"This is what it was four or five years ago," said Black, happy to see the return of pre-recession crowd levels.
By 9 a.m., the crowds had thinned, although the parking lot was still jammed. In the mall's soaring atrium, bedecked with twinkling lights and a giant Christmas tree, sisters Anna Gonzalez and Helia Martins were taking a break at Starbucks with their daughters. The group had opted not to show up in the dead of night, as has been their tradition in the past.
"We weren't feeling it this year," said Gonzalez, explaining that there don't seem to be any must-have items on her family's wish lists. Even a nephew who's been known to camp overnight with his friends outside of Fry's Electronics decided against it this year, she said.
Nearby, an employee of a large chain store who wasn't authorized to speak to the press said there had been no crush of shoppers when his doors opened at 6 a.m. He predicted that would change as the day wore on.
"Between 11 and 6, the crowds get off the hook," he said.
Walnut Creek's Broadway Plaza saw plenty of shoppers, but because it is an outdoor retail center, the crowds weren't as packed as some of the other malls.
"It's really not that busy," said Katie Reitter, a Walnut Creek resident. "We've mainly been at Macy's. Macy's has some great deals today." Reitter was in downtown Walnut Creek on Friday with two companions.
Most stores in downtown Walnut Creek were closed in the pre-dawn hours on Friday, although numerous shoppers were going in and out of stores such as Macy's, Urban Outfitters, Banana Republic and Victoria's Secret.
"I'm really not sure how long we're going to continue shopping," Reitter said. "We're going to continue until we drop."
In Concord, some shoppers said they found some great bargains -- but the discounts weren't as attractive as prior Black Friday offerings.
"I found some good deals, but they were better last year," said Lafayette resident Alex Whitcomb, who said she also shopped at Target before her visit to Sunvalley mall in Concord. "I've been doing this early shopping every year."
Whitcomb said she is gradually feeling more confident about opening up her wallet for holiday shopping. "The economy is slowly getting better," Whitcomb said.
Some Sunvalley shoppers said they were already planning a fresh Black Friday trip to the mall.
"I'm going to do this next year," said Victor Navarro, a Napa resident. "But I thought the deals today could have been better."
Kelly Foehner and her friend Amy Fulmer said their early morning visit to Stoneridge mall in Pleasanton was their first Black Friday shopping trip during the wee hours. They each had one daughter with them and had bought a number of items for the children.
"It's crazy here," Fulmer, a Pleasanton resident, said as she looked around the throng of shoppers who had packed into Stoneridge.
They attempted to shop at the Victoria's Secret store but had to leave because it was so crowded. They also said shortly after midnight that some large bins in the store had already been emptied by voracious shoppers.
"We're mainly doing this for our daughters," Foehner said. "They're having a great time."
Despite the hordes of shoppers, Foehner and Fulmer said they intend to return for Black Friday 2013.
Some shoppers were at the malls for the experience rather than to come home with numerous shopping bags.
"I'm just people watching," said Kaala Cheney, a Pleasanton resident.
Cheney and her friend Nick Allen, who also lives in Pleasanton, witnessed numerous transit riders pouring out of the nearby BART station, which is close to Stoneridge mall, where the two joined throngs in the retail complex.
"There are definitely more people here at Stoneridge than at you would see on a typical Saturday," Allen said.
Nancie Lee Cagliaro, a retired grocery store checker, stood in line not once but twice Thursday night at the Toys R Us in San Jose on Winchester Boulevard. And that was after the San Jose grandmother had already served seven people Thanksgiving dinner.
Cagliaro's first trip was at 7:45 p.m. to buy her 5-year-old granddaughter a Leap Frog Leapster 2 learning game the child saw on a TV commercial last week. "I got to have that," the granddaughter said.
When Cagliaro heard about the Toys R Us sale, she thought, "Why not?"
"I've never done this before. I thought it would be kind of fun," Cagliaro said. "I've always heard there would be lots of friendly people in line."
After Cagliaro bought the game, she called her family to see if her other grandchildren also wanted toys. She braved the line a second time this time for a Tickle Me Elmo and a Batman.
"I didn't have anything else to do," said Cagliaro, who didn't rule out a return for Black Friday 2013.
In San Jose, Sheila Greenlaw, 35, a Campbell resident and single mother who's also a full -time student at West Valley College, got in line at the Toys R Us on Winchester at 10 a.m. Thursday.
Why was she there so early? Greenlaw wanted a mini-Cadillac Escalade for her son, who will turn 3 on Dec. 4. The car, originally priced at $419.99, was reduced to $269.
"I saved for quite some time," Greenlaw said, admitting that some bills didn't get paid.
A collegial group of about 200 people waited in the line that snaked toward the back of the store. People helped each other out by holding their place in line if they needed to go to their vehicle to rest or for other necessities, said Greenlaw, a newcomer to early shopping.
The early shoppers received a goody bag that included a granola bar, water, crayons, a Lego Star Wars toy and $30 in coupons.
Sheetal Patel was in line with her son Shiv, 14, and nephew, Devansh, 13, behind Greenlaw. The Patels were on the hunt for a PlayStation 3. After waiting in line since noon Thursday, they scored the Ps3 and two free games for $199.99 instead of the original price of $269.99.
"It's a good deal," Shiv said.
Like other shoppers, Santa Cruz resident Alyssa Starkey had a game plan for her evening. Starkey was in line with friends at a Target store in Fremont's Pacific Commons Mall.
"After Target, we're going to Best Buy," Starkey said. "Then we will be heading back toward San Jose for when Oakridge Mall opens at midnight."
Santa Cruz resident Alyssa Starkey visited Fremont's Pacific Commons Mall with Maddy Nichols, who lives in England. Nichols, a physics student at UC Santa Cruz, was going through her first Thanksgiving and Black Friday shopping expedition on Thursday night.
"I wanted to get the American experience for this," Nichols said.
The numerous Thanksgiving Day store openings threatened to overshadow the trip to grandmother's house for turkey and pumpkin pie.
Old Navy opened its doors at 9 a.m. Thursday for those who wanted to work up their appetite by shopping for heavily discounted hoodies and jeans. Walmart officially kicked off its seasonal campaign with three different "door-buster" sales: one at 8 p.m. for "family specials" and another at 10 p.m. for gadgets. At 5 a.m. on Friday, the retailer offered deals on TVs, clothes and jewelry.
Target was open at 9 p.m. Thursday and many Toys R Us outlets welcomed their early Black Friday shoppers at 8 p.m. Westfield Valley Fair in Santa Clara opened at midnight.
The earlier openings reflect both the intense competition among retailers to lure shoppers to their aisles -- both online and brick-and-mortar -- as well as a desire among consumers to start buying early, said Adrienne O'Hara, Toys R Us spokeswoman.
"Consumers love coming to the stores (early)," she said. "They love it. We saw them come out en masse at some of our stores (last year). We had thousands of customers lining up. They are ready to get their shopping on."
A holiday shopping tracking survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs reported that 17 percent of consumers -- 41 million people -- planned to shop on Thanksgiving Day. Consumers said the chance to get good bargains made leaving home worth it on the great day of feasting and football-watching.
Shoppers, rather than be put off by the earlier and earlier openings on Thanksgiving Day, enjoy them, said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for The NPD Group.
"This is not a religious holiday," he said. "It's an American tradition, just like the Fourth of July. So it's the commercialization of yet another nonreligious holiday. No one wants to watch 12 hours of football. And not everyone wants to get up at 3 a.m. Some people don't mind going out at 8 or 9 p.m."
In Fremont, the lines at Walmart and Target proceeded into the store in orderly fashion Thursday night.
At the Target store off Auto Mall Parkway in Fremont, Target security guards handed out maps to help people navigate through the store.
"It went really well," said Jamey Rauscher of her experience at the Target in Fremont. "They were very well organized. I was impressed."
Elizabeth Garcia, a Napa resident, said she and her shopping companions had arrived at Sunvalley mall about 11:30 p.m., roughly a half-hour before the big regional mall opened its doors. By 4 a.m. on Friday, Garcia was feeling the pace.
"I think I'm done," Garcia said. "I'm pretty tired."
Contact George Avalos at 925-977-8477. Follow him at twitter.com/george_avalos.