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'Gray Thursday' is the New 'Black Friday' at Westfarms

Mall on the West Hartford/Farmington border opens for the first time on Thanksgiving Day.

The Christmas shopping season kicked into high gear at Westfarms, with the mall opening its doors for the first time at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day.

And the early opening was a big hit, with the parking lot reaching 95 percent capacity in the early hours, and only tapering slightly to 75 percent by 3 a.m.

“We did a whole day of business from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. [Friday],” according to Westfarms Marketing and Sponsorship Director Sarah Williams. “We’re into the season. We’re off to a great start.”

Not surprisingly, people were on hand to take advantage of the early, deep discounts offered by many retailers like Macy’s, J.C. Penney and H&M, which had a line stretching out to the exit by 8 p.m. Thursday, according to Williams.

Disney Store Manager Kris Bellantuono said that her store’s 20 percent off all merchandise sale was a huge hit.

“It’s awesome,” she said. “The store has been really busy. … We opened at 8 p.m. [Thursday], and we had many, many, many guests waiting to come out, and they loved it.”

“Toys, toys, toys,” particularly ones with a tie-in to the new movie “Frozen,” are a popular item in the early going, she said.

The mall was still buzzing with activity at 4 a.m.

Springfield resident Inna Kazalis said she was at Westfarms in the early morning with her young daughter Kayla and her nephew Azik because her husband likes to shop on Black Friday.

“We haven’t slept yet,” she said. “My husband does this every year. … It’s fun for [the family].”

Kayla said she was hoping for a 13 Wishes Cleo Set, while Azik was looking for clothing and shoes.

Six Avon High seniors - Jen Greenfield, Kelly Delgallo, Rachel Hanuschak, Alexis Schmittlein, Kiera and Rayna - were also spotted at 4 a.m., one of whom was drinking an energy drink presumably to stay awake. (Starbucks was also a popular destination in the wee hours at Westfarms.)

All of the girls were grasping bags full of merchandise, though they sheepishly said they were shopping for themselves, not for the holidays.

“The sales,” they said in unison when asked why they were out so early. American Eagle, with its 50 percent off everything in the store, was a popular destination for the group of teens.

About 110 of Westfarms’ 160 stores were open on Thanksgiving, according to Williams. Other West Hartford retailers, including Best Buy and Toys "R" Us, also had parking lots filled with cars at 4:30 a.m.

Not everyone, however, believes it’s a good thing that having  Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that typically marks the unofficial start to the holiday shopping season, encroach into Thursday. (Westfarms spokesperson Amanda Sirica said that she has heard the Thanksgiving openings called "Gray Thursday.")

“I'm guessing not too long from now the term "Black Friday" will be meaningless anyhow, because retailers will have the ‘shopping season’ begin sometime around July or so,” said Phil Cohen on West Hartford Patch’s Facebook page. “‘Start your shopping early this year, avoid the crowds.... come in for our July 4th Christmas Doorbuster Extravaganza.’ Before long, the chestnuts will be roasting on a July 4th BBQ pit, and Rudolph's red nose will shine all the way through Halloween.”

John Lyons was even more blunt.

“Black Friday is the Annual Great American Embarrassment and doing anything to promote, encourage or otherwise advance it is just plain wrong,” he wrote.

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