Today may be the last “Black Friday.” Department stores have decided not to wait for the last balloon float down the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route, they’ll forgo the final football whistle, and they are providing less time each year to digest even the last slice of pie. American retailers want you in the stores as early as…yesterday.

With the advent of “Small Business Saturday,” “Cyber Monday ” and practically any other consumer catchphrase designed to open your pocketbook, the nation’s merchants depend on the beginning of the holiday season to shore up lost sales and place their delicate balance sheets into, well…the “black.” Retail chains such as Wal-Mart, Toys ‘R’ Us, JC Penney, Best Buy, Macy’s, Sears, Kohl’s, Kmart and Target opened the majority of their outlets at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. yesterday. Palmdale’s Antelope Valley Mall, 1233 Rancho Vista Blvd., was not to be outdone having greeted shoppers last night at 8 p.m. and will stay open for a marathon 25 hours until 9 p.m. tonight. And to make sure local shoppers know exactly when and where to park, enter, shop and purchase, the Antelope Valley Mall has produced a unique on-line video for timely Black Friday tips at www.av-mall.com.

Fewer customers nationwide are expected to trek out today–naturally after the heavy snowfall in the Great Lakes region and along the East Coast–but more than 61 percent of consumers say they plan to shop either online or in brick-and-mortar stores. The National Retail Federation (NRF) last week said that only 18.3 percent of respondents to a poll indicated they would hit the stores this weekend (about 95 million people), down 23.5 percent from last year. Retailers have traditionally earned up to 40 percent of their annual sales during the last few months of the year. Another 60 million persons will shop tomorrow, according to the NRF, and add 30 million more on Monday and the nation’s retailers may recoup consumer dollars that remain in short supply because of the uneven recovery from the Great Recession. Total sales nationally for 2013 Black Friday amounted to $61.4 billion.

Who are these people?

So who is out there camping out for up to a week in the middle of the night? Young millenials comprise a large portion of the diehard shoppers. According to the NRF, nearly 80 percent of consumers ages 18 to 24 years will face the adversity–much like the Pilgrims–and wait patiently in the cold Antelope Valley night for the store to open. Some will cover all bases and shop “online” while “in line.”

“For younger shoppers, shopping on Thanksgiving and Black Friday is as much a social experience as it is a buying mission,” said Pam Goodfellow, an analyst with Prosper Insights and Analytics which conducted the survey for the NRF. “It sort of an annual ‘happening’ for millenials considering the advent of social media, more disposable income (i.e. no mortgage, college, medical bills, etc.) and young people shop online much more frequently than other consumers. And waiting in line for hours is nothing new…they do that all the time for concerts or when the latest electronic gadget hits the market.”

Last year, the NRF said foot traffic in retail stores reached 92 million shoppers on Black Friday. ShopperTrak said Black Friday sales in 2013 surpassed $12.3 billion with more than 1.07 billion store visits in 48 hours. Without Thanksgiving Day sales, ShopperTrak revealed, brick-and-mortar stores saw less money coming in, down 11.4 percent from 2012 to represent a decline in sales of about 13.2 percent. Last year, more than 141 million shoppers clicked on retail websites from Thanksgiving Day through Sunday; the average amount spent was about $407.02 per person over the holiday weekend, down from an average of $423.55 during the same period in 2012. Total spending for the four-day shopping frenzy amounted to $57.4 billion, down about 2.9 percent from 2012.

Apparel last year comprised 29 percent of all purchases, followed by electronic gadgets at 28 percent. Toys came in at 11 percent, all statistics from the NRF and well as the Consumer Electronics Association. Last year, Wal-Mart sold more than 1.4 million tablets on Thanksgiving Day alone. And for the first time last year, Thanksgiving Day sales of electronic gadgets broke the $1 billion mark ($1.06 billion in online sales), up 18 percent from 2012, according to Adobe Digital Index. Black Friday digital electronic sales settled at $1.93 billion. IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark, a service that tracks online monetary transactions nationally, reported that the 2013 Thanksgiving Day rush caused sales to surge 19.7 percent from the same period in 2012. Black Friday sales also did well, up 18.9 percent.

Black Friday sales may not always result in savings. The consumer website DealNews.com reported this month that toys, typically on sale today, are better off purchased near Christmas Day when stores must thin their inventory. Today’s price for the latest RC racer, popular action figure or “must have” doll could easily be a repeat of a sale conducted in July and may not represent the lowest possible price. The same goes with high definition televisions. DealNews.com suggests you wait a little longer toward Christmas Day–and maybe the day after–to purchase your brandname 50- or 55-inch HDTV. Other sets are reportedly discounted this time of year, but not the famous names you see advertised daily on television. And hold off on “impulse buys,” they say, because these items–ranging anywhere from toiletries to small kitchen appliances to power tools–will probably be marked at a slightly lower price in about one month. You may want to wait a little longer to purchase the Charlie Brown Musical Christmas Tree.

Online bargains can save big

Yet another report, this one from the Frugal Shopper, suggests that so-called steep online discounts will, in effect, disappear by Thanksgiving Day. Therefore, they suggest savvy consumers would be better off shopping online to not only save money, but to take advantage of free in-store pickup offered by merchants such as Wal-Mart and Target. Frugal Shopper is in agreement with Dealnews.com in that the best discounts for electronic gadgets are found either online or at the store just a day or so before Christmas Day. And you don’t have to necessarily wait for Cyber Monday. If you haven’t made your online purchases, Frugal Shopper suggests you go online today through Sunday because Monday may be difficult with tens of millions of persons searching retail websites.

For shoppers, the holiday retail landscape has become so competitive and complicated that BlackFriday.com is offering an app that provides constant email pricing updates as well as the lowest prices available for items on a customer’s wish list through New Years Eve. Retailers believe that the reported higher employment rates–and lower gas prices–may entice consumers to spend more money this year. Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist for the NRF, said consumers are in a “better place” than they were one year ago.

“Consumers may have a little more this year for holiday shopping,” Kleinhenz said. “Shoppers will still be deliberate with their purchases, while hunting for hard-to-pass-up bargains.” His group is betting on a 4.1-percent growth in sales, or about $617 billion dollars this holiday season.

The City of Lancaster and the BLVD Assn. has joined forces again to tout the “Shop More in Lancaster” campaign designed to encourage residents save time and energy and to trade locally. The campaign typically takes place during the holiday season, but city officials believe that “dollars spent in Lancaster, stay in Lancaster” year-round.

“The holiday season is a time when friends and family get together to exchange gifts of love and appreciation. There is no better place to find these gifts than right here in Lancaster,” said Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris. “We strongly encourage the community to now only show love for their friends and family this season, but to also show love for our city by ensuring that their hard-earned dollars stay here to benefit our community.”

Lancaster wants you to ‘shop locally’

Shopping locally is reported to be beneficial to any community by increasing sales tax revenue, which in turn funds local parks, roads, public safety and other local initiatives. Businesses located within the Lancaster city limits (and those within any incorporated community) such as an auto dealer, “big box” or “mom-and-pop” stores have their funds funneled back into the neighborhood. During the holidays, Lancaster residents may receive a number of special discounts from local businesses. Also, the BLVD Assn. will offer a number of special events during the holiday season.

“We have a number of fun events lined up that are sure to spread the joy and provide residents with more opportunities to ‘shop local’ this holiday season,” said Tim Anders, president of The BLVD Assn. and owner of BeX Bar & Grill. “There’s no better way to give back to the community than to purchase and play right here in Lancaster.”

The City Palmdale wants to ensure a safe holiday season. A free holiday safety presentation will be hosted Dec. 1 in the main hall at St. Mary’s Church, 1600 East Ave. R-4. Spanish translation will be available.

“The holidays are a wonderfrul time for most, but a criminal act can put a damper on the fun,” said Kery German, Palmdale Crime Prevention Officer. “It is important to know how to protect yourself, and this presentation will give you helpful hints so you are not a ‘soft target’ for holiday criminals.” German wants residents to know basic safety techniques in various holiday situations such as shopping, home security, protecting personal information on credit cards and while shopping online, holiday traveling and more. For instance, when shopping, don’t place items in the vehicle in plain view. Lock them in the trunk as you purchases them. Better yet, bring them out all at once if practical. Also, park in a well-lighted area and, again if practical, bring along a shopping partner. Once the gifts are at home, avoid advertising on the curbside what you’ve just purchased/received. Criminals lurk in neighborhoods a day or so after Christmas Day simply to see “what’s new” inside the house. Finally, don’t drink and drive. The holiday season is one of the busiest–and often most tragic–periods for law enforcement and motorists.

The term “Black Friday” is said to have originated about 50 years ago in Philadelphia, Pa. Traffic officers there coined the phrase because of the extra heavy downtown traffic on Fridays after Thanksgiving Day. Retailers said the term referred to their chance to turn a profit at year’s end. For many years, it was common for retailers nationwide to open at 6 a.m. on Friday, but in the late 2000s, some stores began to open as early as 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. In 2011, Target, Kohl’s, Macy’s and Best Buy announced they would present their sale prices at midnight to lure in bargain hunters. Most Wal-Mart franchises in 2012 announced they would open at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, and that’s where consumers choices are today.

Black Friday marks the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season, though millions of persons will procrastinate until Christmas Eve. Of course, the annual rush on department stores has not come without controversy. In 2011, a woman at a Porter Ranch Wal-Mart used pepper spray on fellow shoppers, causing minor injuries on at least 10 persons. Store clerks had brought out a crate of discounted XBox 360 video consoles and a crowd naturally formed. The woman began spraying people “in order to get an advantage,” according to responding Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies. The plan briefly worked as the woman calmly walked to the checkout line and paid for her item. Onlookers quickly identified the woman to deputies and she was taken into custody and charged with assault.