Black Friday is getting a little gray these days.

More and more retailers are opening their doors on Thanksgiving to give their traditional Black Friday shoppers a jump on the holiday shopping season.

NorthPark Mall in Davenport and SouthPark Mall in Moline will open at midnight Thursday and be open until 9 p.m. Friday. Doors will be unlocked at 10:30 p.m. Thursday although the only mall store open then will be Sears, which opens at 8 p.m.

Target will open at 9 p.m. Thursday while other major retailers — among them Kmart, Big Lots, Gander Mountain, Walgreens and Hancock Fabrics — open before dawn Thursday.

“We heard from our guests that they look forward to kicking off their holiday shopping with deal-hunting on Thanksgiving night,” said Kathee Tesija, executive vice president, merchandising for Target.

The earlier openings seem to be OK with most retailers and shoppers who, according to a survey, plan on spending slightly more than last year for holiday gifts.

The National Retail Association reports that the average shopper will spend $749.51 on gifts, décor, greeting cards and other holiday trappings, compared with $740.57 spent last year. Overall, the association forecasts national sales to increase 4.1 percent to $586.1 billion.

“Retailers are under immense pressure to get the holiday

shopping season off to a strong start. It is the busiest time of the year for them and Black Friday is so named because it is the day when most retailers’ sales move into the black for the year,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

“As big-box chains face growing competition from discounters like Target and Wal-Mart, not to mention the fierce competition from online retailers like Amazon.com, they are all compelled to find whatever edge they can to get shoppers into their stores,”

But not everybody is thrilled about the early start to Black Friday shopping.

By the middle of last week, there were at least 40 online petitions on change.org related to retailers starting Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving. One of the most-signed petitions, started by a California Target employee, had more than 200,000 supporters as of Wednesday morning who were against employees having to work on Thanksgiving.

“The biggest concern for retailers should be the potential for fueling discontent among employees. Employee retention is always an issue in retail, which has some of the highest turnover rates of an industry,” Challenger said.

“So, there is a risk of voluntary departures just as the busiest shopping period of the year begins. Those who stick around but are not happy about it might provide less-than-stellar customer service, which could threaten to push more shoppers toward online options.”

Bettendorf therapist Kathleen Collins said stores are opening up earlier because shoppers are asking them to, even though it might interrupt the traditional family Thanksgiving Day observance.

“Perhaps I would look at it like the only reason stores are doing that is because people are participating,” she said. “Some bring their families together because they are all doing it together. I am not sure it is pulling them apart.”

However, Collins said, “Thanksgiving is not about materialism. It is about gratitude. It could be a fun thing for parents to go together. But it has just gotten bigger and bigger and bigger. ... One would assume it is not a good thing for families (to shop on Thanksgiving). But if they are going to be together all day and have an adventure, who are we to judge that.”

Aleshia Chiesa, NorthPark and SouthPark’s marketing manager, said the two malls opened at midnight Thanksgiving a year ago, but did so quietly.

“This year we are advertising that we are open at midnight,” she said. “Mostly, the national retailers are open at midnight. We are hoping we will have a full mall.”

Gander Mountain in Davenport will be open on Thanksgiving for the fifth consecutive year.

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“It has been tremendous for us. It is an extremely busy day,” store manager Nate Eichmeyer said. “It is a chance for people to get away from family, to escape and do some shopping. It is our third-busiest day of the year.”

He said the first year Gander Mountain was open on Thanksgiving, hours were 3-9 p.m. Since then, the hours have expanded. This year, hours will be 9 a.m. to midnight Thursday, reopening at 6 a.m. Black Friday.

And Eichmeyer said employees understand about working holidays.

‘We let associates know, even when we are hiring them, that this a day we are open,” he said. “It is a required day to work. But we try to schedule around what plans they might have that day with family. We also try to take care of our associates who are here. We try to provide meals.”

Chad Parker, store manager at Sam’s Club in Davenport, said the store will open at 7 a.m. Friday, two hours later than a year ago. “We are going to have a continental breakfast for members,” he said. “We have done it for several years. It is our busiest day of the year.”

Menards stores, including those in Moline and Davenport, will open at 5 a.m. on Black Friday.

By opening an hour early on Friday, Mike Campbell, manager of the Davenport store, said they hope to catch people who have been shopping all night.

“By us opening up at 5 a.m., we are trying to be more accommodating to those people who were out shopping for sales at midnight or 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., so they can stop at our store instead of going home and coming back later.

“It is the most fun day of the year as far as retail. Team members dress up in Christmas apparel, Christmas music is blaring inside and out. Team members look forward to it.”