NEW YORK — Black Friday has become part two of the kick-off to the holiday shopping season, with stores opening earlier on Thanksgiving.
Here's a look at what's happening around the country:
How They Do It In Wisconsin
Some people wait outside in the cold overnight for cheap TVs or computers. People in Wisconsin do it for beer.
People arrived at Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee early Friday to get a shot at the limited edition Imperial Stout Aged in Bourbon Barrels. A few people even stood outside overnight.
The brewery only had 5,000 22-ounce bottles at $15 each. They were gone in less than 4 hours.
Brewery spokesman Matt Krajnak estimated around 800 people were in line up by the time the doors opened at 8 a.m., when it was snowing and about 15 degrees.
Owner Russ Klisch says Black Friday is the brewery's biggest day of the year. They also had a DJ, breakfast and — of course — tap beer.
This is the fourth year the brewery has had Black Friday beers.
Prison Crafts On Sale in Maine
It was Black Friday at a prison's craft store in Maine, too. The store in Thomaston opened an hour and cut prices by 40 percent. A similar sale took place at the Maine Prison Industries outlet store in Windham.
Bookshelves, children's toys and even models of the USS Constitution warship were among the items on sale, all made as part of an inmate work program.
Maine Prison Industries manager Ken Lindsey said prisoners are paid $1 to $3 per hour, which must first go toward court restitution and child support payments. He said the program also teaches inmates job skills and people skills that they can use upon release.
Maine prisoners have made handicrafts for sale since the early 1800s, starting with sleighs, Lindsey said.
Ferguson Protesters Call for Boycott
Protesters are speaking out on Black Friday about a grand jury's decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the white officer who fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager.
About 200 people demonstrated in a plaza near Chicago's historic water tower, calling for a boycott on shopping to show solidarity with ongoing protests around Ferguson, Missouri, where the shooting took place.
Earlier, protesters also entered a Target and multiple Wal-Mart stores in the St. Louis area, according to Johnetta Elzie, who tweeted and posted videos of the demonstrations.
Protesters chanted, "no justice, no peace, no racist police" and "no more Black Friday" after being moved out of a Wal-Mart by police.
There was no immediate word of arrests. Other protests were planned around the country, but nobody showed up for a scheduled demonstration in Brooklyn, New York.
Best Buy Site Outage
Best Buy's website seemed to be back up and running at around 11:30 a.m. eastern on Friday after going down for more than an hour with a message that read, "WE'RE SORRY."
Jeff Schelman, a Best Buy spokesman, attributed it to "a concentrated spike in mobile traffic." He said the company shut down BestBuy.com so it could restore it to full performance.
Last week, Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly had said he expected competition for shoppers to be "intense." He forecast flat revenue for the fourth quarter.
Wal-Mart Workers Get Protests, Too
About 100 protesters outside a Wal-Mart in downtown Chicago called on the company to pay its workers $15 an hour and provide more full-time positions.
"Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart, you're no good! Treat your workers like you should!" they chanted.
It's the latest round of protests to hit Wal-Mart, with labor organizers saying demonstrations were planned for 1,600 locations Friday.
Brooke Buchanan, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, said Friday the company is not aware of anyone walking off the job. She said "a handful" of people worked their shifts before joining demonstrations. Another representative, Erica Jones, said she herself is an example of opportunities to move up at Wal-Mart; she started years ago as a cashier and is now in media relations.
Black Friday Arrests
Two women were arrested after an early morning Black Friday fight among shoppers at a Southern California store.
Tustin Police Sergeant Ryan Coe told City News Service that a disturbance was reported at a Kohl's department store around 1 a.m. Two female victims were located on the second floor near the baby section and two suspects were found on the first floor.
Coe says it appears the four women got into an argument and a physical altercation ensued. He says one victim was taken to a hospital as a precaution. He did not know the nature of her injuries.
Biggest Shopping Day of the Year?
Since 2005, Black Friday has held the crown for the top sales day of the year, according to ShopperTrak, which tracks data at 70,000 stores globally.
That could change this year. The earlier openings on Thanksgiving are eating into Black Friday sales. As a result, the last Saturday before Christmas may edge out Black Friday as the biggest shopping day of the year.
Still, Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak, believes Black Friday and the Saturday before Christmas will be turn out to be a close tie.
Over at Macy's, CEO Terry Lundgren tells The Associated Press he thinks Black Friday will still be the company's biggest sales day of the year.
At Westfield Fox Valley mall in Aurora, Illinois, parking spaces were plentiful and lines in many stores short or non-existent Friday morning. Some groggy shoppers were in their pajama pants.
Kimberly States said it was noticeably quieter than the night before, when she made her first trip to the mall.
"It was a zoo last night around 10 p.m.," she said. "Now it seems like more of the old folks."
States and her daughter were shopping mostly for clothes. She planned to return later Friday with her son.
She thinks people are feeling more confident about the economy, but she still plans to spend about the same amount on Christmas gifts — or maybe less — compared with last year.
At around 5:30 a.m. Friday, a Target store in the suburb of Mission, Kansas, was mostly empty. Bridget McNabb, 55, was disappointed when a worker told her the $119 TV she wanted sold out shortly after the store opened the evening before.
In Phoenix, Arizona, Kathy Wise and her mother-in-law combed through a shelf of Monster High dolls, but couldn't find the one Wise's daughter wanted.
"It's kind of a bummer," said Wise. They said it seemed like some items they were looking for were already gone.
At a Target in Phoenix, Susan Ross and her mother, Mary Bakunowski, said they were annoyed that on the morning of Black Friday, the store only had three registers open.
"Come on, I don't care if there are five people in the store, open your registers," Ross said.
U.K. Gets Black Friday, Shoving Included
Black Friday is becoming a tradition in the United Kingdom, too, and businesses there are finding the shopping derby can lead to chaos.
Police were called to help maintain security at some supermarkets and shopping outlets that offered deep discounts starting at midnight.
"This created situations where we had to deal with crushing, disorder and disputes between customers," said Peter Fahy, police chief for greater Manchester.
Greater Manchester Police said there were two arrests and some stores were closed to prevent more severe problems. One woman was injured by a falling television set.
Online retailer Amazon is believed to have introduced the concept of Black Friday to the U.K. four years ago, with more businesses joining every year since.
Back in the U.S., businesses took steps to keep crowds under control. Such efforts were stepped up after 2008, when a Wal-Mart worker died after a stampede of shoppers.
Best Buy, for instance, has a ticketing and line process to ensure an orderly entrance into its stores. The company also says stores held training sessions to prep for this weekend's rush.
At Target, deals are spread throughout stores and signs direct shoppers to hot items. And the company says every store has a crowd-management captain for inside and outside the store.
That doesn't mean everyone remembers their manners.
Wendy Iscra noted it got a little heated at Wal-Mart in a Chicago suburb where she where she was shopping on Thanksgiving.
"People were shoving each other in there," the 40-year-old said.
Black Friday is also one of the biggest days of the year for gun sales.
That puts pressure on the system for background checks. Researchers with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is overseen by the FBI, have until the end of the third business day following an attempted firearm purchase to determine whether a buyer is eligible. After that, buyers have the right to get their guns even if the check wasn't completed.
Last year, the clock ran out more than 186,000 times.
The problem is the records submitted by states, which aren't always updated to reflect restraining orders or other reasons to deny a sale.
NICS did about 58,000 checks on a typical day last year. The figure surged to 145,000 on Black Friday.
It May Be Too Late
Those who woke early for Black Friday shopping may have missed the boat.
It turns out the hottest deals of the season may be on Thanksgiving, according to an analysis of sales data and store circulars by two research firms.
Others started dishing out deals even earlier. Amazon.com and Best Buy started introducing Black Friday deals last week. On Wednesday, Target also gave early access to some of the specials reserved for the holiday shopping kickoff both in stores and online.
Early Bird Special
The National Retail Federation expected 25.6 million shoppers to head to stores on Thanksgiving, which would be slightly down from last year. The final numbers aren't in yet, but there were crowds across the country.
Macy's said more than 15,000 people lined up outside its flagship location in New York City's Herald Square when the doors opened at 6 p.m. Last year, the retailer said there were 15,000 people.
In the Chicago suburb of Naperville, Illinois, the parking lot of a Wal-Mart store was full a half hour before deals started at 6 p.m., including $199 iPad minis.
And thousands of people were at Citadel Outlets in Los Angeles, which opened at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving for a "Moonlight Madness" all-night sale. Hordes of cars inched past rows of palm trees wrapped in red and white lights.
When stores first started opening on Thanksgiving a few years ago, the move was met with resistance by those who thought the holiday should remain sacred.
Some expressed a tinge of guilt even as they snagged deals on the holiday. "I think it's ridiculous stores open on Thanksgiving," said Reggie Thomas, 44, a director who bought a Sony sound bar for $349, about $100 off, at Best Buy in New York.
Cathyliz Lopez, 20, who spent $700 at Target on Thanksgiving, agrees. "It's ruining the spirit of Thanksgiving," she said Thursday. "But ... the best deals were today."
A Visit From the Boss at Target
Target CEO Brian Cornell was at a store in New York City's East Harlem neighborhood for its opening at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving.
Cornell, who became chief executive in August, said the kickoff to the season is off to a good start based on early reads around the country.
"The baskets are full," he said as he watched shoppers filling their carts with TVs, clothing and toys. He noted people were buying more than just deals.
Cornell told The Associated Press he feels encouraged by what he has seen at stores and online. The holiday kickoff has become "more of a week event," he said.
Anne D'Innocenzio and Mae Anderson in New York; Sara Burnett in Chicago; Tali Arbel in Phoenix, Arizona; Dan Sewell in West Chester, Ohio; Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Kansas, Carrie Antlfinger in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Robert Jablon in Los Angeles and Patrick Whittle in Thomaston, Maine; contributed to this report.