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Friends and family are gathering today to celebrate this most American of holidays. At the same time, businesses hope to celebrate another great American tradition: Shopping. Now we're not talking about tomorrow's Black Friday bargain bonanzas. Many big retailers have moved their shopping season up to this evening.

But NPR's Sonari Glinton reports that opening on Thanksgiving is still a bit of a gamble for retailers.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Officially, today's holiday is called Thanksgiving. Brick and mortar retailers though, are calling it Gray Thursday. Marshal Cohen is a retail analyst with the NPD Group and he says there's a reason for the early start.

MARSHAL COHEN: Traditionally, in the past, on line retailers has had Thanksgiving Day all to themselves. And what that means is by the time Black Friday comes around, a lot of consumers have already spent a bunch of money.

GLINTON: Online spending has increased fivefold in the last decade. Cohen says it was that online spending that brought about the Black Friday deals in the first place. He says as online shopping grows, traditional retailers are trying to build excitement and get the dollars as soon as they can.

COHEN: When the wallet's at its fullest, consumers are less likely to look for deeper discounts and more likely to spend on themselves, as well as buying for others with gifts. So, that early dollar is the most coveted dollar.

GLINTON: And the battle for those dollars will begin, even before the pie is served.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADS)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Black Friday's back. Savings start Thursday at 8 PM.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: K-Mart is having three doorbuster events. Grab these great deals 8:00 p.m. Thanksgiving.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Macy's Black Friday sales starts at midnight.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Start saving Thursday night at 10:00 p.m. Toys R Us, where kids are a big deal. That's right - 10:00 p.m.

GLINTON: There's been a backlash against the early hype. Virginia Edwards is from the suburbs of Denver. She says she'll shop Friday but...

VIRGINIA EDWARDS: No, I won't shop on Thursday.

GLINTON: Why not?

EDWARDS: Because I'm spending it with my family on Thursday. So, it's Thanksgiving, I have a whole bunch of people coming over, and I plan to do that on Thursday.

GLINTON: Edwards says she likes to go shopping after the holiday. Besides, she says, she's already gotten most of her shopping done and plenty of good deals.

EDWARDS: I buy a lot of my stuff online, just because I don't have to pay tax, and they've had really good specials the last two weeks. So, I just have a few more gifts to get and I'm done. So, I just shop for stocking stuffers.

GLINTON: Meanwhile, Julie Seewald says she'll be out with the crowds late on Thursday. She works at a department store.

JULIE SEEWALD: You know, I'd rather not, if I could choose, but everyone who does that just kind of has to buckle down, and it's part of retail, so. It's a big day for retail.

GLINTON: Several groups are protesting many of the big-box retailers opening tonight. But not all retailers are getting into the game. Nordstrom's has put up signs explaining that it won't be open on Thanksgiving.

BROOKE WHITE: The signs say that we celebrate one holiday at a time, and that we are unveiling our holiday decorations the day after Thanksgiving in all of our stores, nationwide.

GLINTON: Brooke White is with Nordstrom.

WHITE: Customers appreciate the fact that we celebrate Thanksgiving and then we move on to Christmas and holiday and Hanukah, and celebrate those holidays, give them each their time.

GLINTON: Meanwhile, Marshal Cohen says there's a great risk of consumers getting burned out on the holiday season. Cohen says Gray Thursday is a bit of a gamble.

COHEN: You know, we all think that retailers have really thought this through. But they're trying this. If the consumer doesn't respond and retailers don't have a big strong day and it isn't worth their time and energy and effort and cost to open up on Thanksgiving Day, then they won't do it next year.

GLINTON: Cohen says consumers have rebelled against retailers before. But, he says, if the bargain hunters and those who want a getaway from their families unite, Gray Thursday could be with us for a while. Sonari Glinton, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WERTHEIMER: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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