Chelsea Breland is the pre-Black Friday shopper that merchants crave.

10 busiest shopping days

1. Friday, Nov. 23 (Black Friday)2. Saturday, Dec. 22 (Super Saturday)3. Saturday, Dec. 154. Friday, Dec. 215. Sunday, Dec. 236. Saturday, Dec. 87. Wednesday, Dec. 268. Saturday, Nov. 249. Thursday, Dec. 2010. Saturday, Dec. 29Other noteworthy dates: Dec. 16 and Dec. 1 ShopperTrak

As soon as the Thanksgiving feast is over today, she plans to stand in line at Best Buy in West Ashley to buy a new TV.

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The store doesn’t open until midnight, but she will be there between 2 and 6 p.m. with cellphone, sister and friend in tow for the bonanza of deals.

Her sister will search for cameras; her friend will make a beeline to laptop computers.

From there they will head to Target, where Breland’s brother will search for a TV and do reconnaissance on the crowds.

If Walmart’s early doorbusters have winnowed down the crowds, she might stop by the world’s largest retailer in the wee hours of the morning before putting her head on a pillow by sun up Friday.

“I go for the deals and the rush,” the Mount Pleasant resident said. “It’s a whole lot of fun, and I am so happy afterward.”

Breland and company will be among the 147 million people flocking to stores this long holiday weekend, one that comes the earliest in five years to kick off the annual shopping frenzy.

This year, Thanksgiving will take an even bigger bite out of Black Friday, the day that gets its name because stores traditionally begin to turn a profit on their balance sheets as most people are off work and out shopping.

More stores will open today than ever before, and they are opening earlier.

Retail juggernaut Walmart, which is open around the clock, usually sets the pace. Its special sales start at 8 p.m., two hours earlier than last year, and key competitors clamoring for customers’ still-paltry purses after the recession followed suit.

Kmart, which is open from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. today, will reopen with its crowd-pleasers at 8 p.m. Sears and Toys R Us fling open their doors at 8 p.m. Target, which opened at midnight last year, will allow shoppers inside at 9 p.m.

HHGregg will start selling appliances at 10 p.m. Best Buy’s registers will ring at midnight, as will Belk’s for its earliest opening ever. Kohl’s won’t be left out either, also opening at midnight.

Several people were already forming a line at Best Buy in North Charleston on Wednesday afternoon.

“Black Friday used to be a party-shopping-type thing where families went together,” said Marianne Bickle, head of the Department of Retailing at the University of South Carolina.

“Now, it’s not a social event. It’s about saving money. Instead of family members going to one store, one goes to one store and one to another, and they are maximizing their technological resources to make sure they get the best deal.”

Rising expectations

As for the blow back from shops opening earlier than ever, Bickle said merchants are just changing with the times.

“The retailers aren’t making consumers shop,” she said. “They are simply giving people options. If they don’t want to shop, they don’t have to.”

The National Retail Federation predicts that holiday sales will rise 4.1 percent to $586.1 billion. That’s lower than last year’s 5.6 percent growth in sales, but higher than the 10-year average of 3.5 percent.

“This is the most optimistic forecast NRF has released since the recession,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “In spite of the uncertainties that exist in our economy and among consumers, we believe we’ll see solid holiday sales growth this year.”

Concern over the “fiscal cliff” and future economic growth could combine to affect shoppers’ spending plans, but Shay believes retailers’ promotions will “hit the right chord with holiday shoppers.”

Marlena Lunnon of New York City plans to be among the multitudes leaving the dining room and heading for the showroom today.

“As soon as we get up from the table, we will go shopping,” she said. “Whatever is open, we will be there.”

Lunnon, who is visiting family members in Goose Creek for the holiday, is trying not to spend over $1,000, but she doubts she can stick to her budget. Last year she shelled out about $1,500 on Christmas gifts.

Barbara Haney will be out later today too.

She and her husband, Johnathon, who is in the Air Force, scouted toys at Walmart this week for presents for their 2-year-old daughter, Leia.

“I come for the deals, not the crowds,” said Barbara Haney, who plans to spend between $500 and $1,000 on Christmas, the same as last year.

Anthony Duncan of North Charleston won’t be out shopping this weekend, but he said his wife, Karen, will.

“I just give her the money and let her go,” Duncan said.

The Department of Defense system operator anticipates spending about $2,000 this year, not much more than in 2011.

“A lot of it will be gift cards,” he said while shopping this week for birthday gifts for twin grandchildren.

And you won’t find Ellen Lawless and her family at the stores today either.

“If we don’t shop, maybe they will get the hint that they shouldn’t be open on Thanksgiving,” Lawless said.

But come Friday, she will be out with her daughter, Megan, looking for deals, because she plans to spend less this year.

“The cost of a lot of things has gone up,” she said.

‘Real conundrum’

Locally owned Palmetto Moon refuses to open on Thanksgiving, as most other local businesses, but co-owner Bob Webster doesn’t want to miss shoppers either.

“It’s a real conundrum,” he said. “I’m concerned when customers are going to shop. Are they going to come back after going to Walmart at 8 p.m. and Target at 9 p.m.? It doesn’t make any sense to me to open on Thanksgiving Day, and it doesn’t make your employees very happy. But I have to open the hours that the customers are in the malls or the rest of the shops.”

So his stores will open at midnight at Northwoods Mall in North Charleston, his earliest opening ever, and then at 3 a.m. at Citadel Mall in West Ashley, Towne Centre in Mount Pleasant and Azalea Square in Summerville.

Consumer researcher Britt Beemer believes consumers will bookend the holiday shopping season by snatching up the early-bird Thanksgiving weekend specials, then waiting until the final five days before Christmas for everything to go on sale.

“I call it Christmas hibernation,” said Beemer, who heads Summerville-based America’s Research Group. “Americans are far more bargain-driven this year ... and say they will wait for the deepest discounts of the season, which they believe will be offered in the last days before Christmas.”

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or