Nancy Soriano was making sandwiches and boiling water in front of her tent outside of Best Buy on Tuesday morning.
The 48-year-old Atwater woman has been camping outside the big-box store since Monday with her 8-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son. However, only her husband is staying overnight, she said.
Soriano wants to get a couple of electronic items, such as a 40-inch flat screen TV, a digital camera as well as movies and video games.
"I have a list," she said. "It's not just one thing. I come here for what is worth (the wait)."
Traditionally, the holiday shopping season kicks off the day after Thanksgiving. But as retailers continue to vie for consumer dollars, they've opened their stores earlier and earlier.
Some stores that opened at midnight last year are opening even sooner this year, sparking criticism of Black Thursday and protest against what is seen by many as encroaching on the holiday.
In Merced, Black Friday shoppers started camping out earlier this year compared with previous years. Thus far, there are five tents outside Best Buy and most of them have been there since Monday, hoping to get some of the best deals of the year.
Some of the major stores will change their schedules to open earlier than usual on Black Friday.
Soriano said Black Friday sales are significantly lower than the regular prices. She and her husband were able to get two TVs last year, and few other items on their list.
"You have to know what you want," she said.
Ellie Nandino was also among the campers. She had been holding a space for her son, Edgar Nandino, since 6 a.m. on Tuesday.
"It was cold, muggy, humid and windy," she said a few minutes before her son arrived. "Then it got better."
Nandino even made a friend while holding the space in line for her son. She got to know Soriano.
"Everybody takes care of each other. That to me is very special," she said. "You have to go to the bathroom once in a while, you have to go get food once in a while."
Edgar Nandino said he was also there for the 40-inch TVs and memory devices among other items.
"Everyone started packing in a lot (earlier) so I'm trying to get into the rush so I can get my TVs ahead of time," he said. "The sooner you are in line, the quicker you get the TVs because if I'm back there, there's no way for me to get my TVs. Those TVs are going to be gone."
Black Friday deals are popular at other Best Buy outlets, too.
In Elk Grove, according to news reports, people have been camping since last weekend. At Modesto's Best Buy, a tent sat outside the entrance Monday, but it wasn't occupied.
An employee said the tent has been on site for about a week -- a look inside revealed a bedroll and pillow, but no signs of occupancy. It's not clear if pitching a tent without staying in it violates any sort of Black Friday etiquette.
By Tuesday, a line of nearly a dozen tents -- these ones occupied -- stretched outside the Sisk Road store.
Smaller stores also offer deals
But the big box, chain stores aren't the only businesses gearing up for the holiday rush.
Small local businesses, like Helen & Louise, are also getting ready for the holiday shopping blitz. The women clothing store near downtown Merced will open at 9 a.m. on Friday.
The store will be offering 50 percent off on its clearance items, a 30 percent discount on jewelry and a 25 percent break on the rest of its merchandise.
"It's a big day for us for sure," said Jackie Goodwin, store owner. "It's one of the biggest sales of the year."
Nationally, retailers are hoping for a strong Black Friday showing, followed by an equally robust holiday season.
Kirthi Kalyanam, director of the Retail Management Institute at Santa Clara University, cautioned against retailers getting too excited, or economists being too pessimistic, about this year's Black Friday turnout.
"The word is cautiously optimistic," he said. "In the overall economy, we're in a kind of holding pattern."
The San Jose Mercury News and Modesto Bee Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra contributed to this report.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
AT A GLANCE
Hours for stores in Merced on Black Friday:
Black Friday campers prepare for holiday rush in Merced