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Jeffrey D. Allred
Security hold anxious customers for the 9pm opening at the Fashion Place Mall in Salt Lake City Thursday.

MURRAY — There was a party atmosphere Thursday night as thousands of mostly young shoppers surged into Fashion Place Mall on the stroke of 9 p.m., getting a jump start on Black Friday.

Zabrina James said she came from Pleasant Grove to have "sister time" with her friends while the men slept off Thanksgiving dinner at home. She's a veteran of pre-dawn, Black Friday shopping but appreciated the chance to come to the mall at a more reasonable hour.

"I like staying up later instead of getting up earlier," she said. "I think it's a great idea."

Black Friday has crept up so far that at many stores, it no longer even starts on Friday. This was the second year in a row Fashion Place Mall has held its night-before event, running throughout the night until 5 a.m. Mall marketing manager Brooke Whitebread said it attracted 25,000 people last year and was considered a success by all involved.

"We found a lot of families are making this their tradition," she said. "We're trying to eliminate a lot of the angst that comes with holiday shopping."

More than beating the crowds, McKenna Black came from Cottonwood Heights for the pure joy of shopping. She saved up for four months and planned out her entire night, hour by hour, including stops at South Towne Center in Sandy at midnight, Old Navy at 2 a.m., Kohl's at 3 a.m. and Target at 5 a.m.

"I like Black Friday more than Thanksgiving," she said. "I don't shop for other people on Black Friday, I shop for myself. That's my holiday."

With most of the action inside the mall, Mike Rau of Orem was a solitary figure sitting outside Sears, wrapped up in several coats, a sleeping bag and a blanket. He started a nine-hour wait at 7 p.m. for a new washer and dryer at a 57 percent discount.

"I think it's worth the wait," he said. "It's something I have to buy anyway, so I might as well get a deal."

The crowd was sparse as nearby Kmart approached its 9 p.m. closing time. Tracy Olson of Midvale carried out a bag of clothing purchases.

"If I get this stuff tonight, I won't have to worry about getting that later," he said. His wife, Aubrey, added: "It's getting to where they're pushing the deals back earlier and earlier so people can avoid the crowds."

She also noted it's easier to get a baby sitter in the evening than it is at 4 a.m.

Summer Calder came from Salt Lake City to pick up items she had already paid for. "I just don't want to deal with anyone tomorrow," she said. "Layaway tonight, sleep in tomorrow."

Not all discount stores have embraced the early-bird approach. ShopKo offered "Turkey Day bonus buys" at up to 60 percent off, plus a free holiday centerpiece with a $50 purchase, but Target remained closed.

At Wal-Mart in Salt Lake City, employees were unpacking pallets loaded with appliances going on sale at 12:01 a.m., while most of the big-ticket electronics would not be available until 5 a.m.

e-mail: pkoepp@desnews.com