(credit: JIM WATSON/Getty Images)

If shopping is a sport, then the day after Thanksgiving is its Super Bowl: “Black Friday” is the official start of the holiday shopping season, and traditionally marks the day of the year when retailers’ accounts move into the black.

Recently, retailers have pushed the start of Black Friday ever earlier, opening their doors in the wee hours of the morning so buyers can vie for heavily discounted specials. And this year, several recession-ravaged chains began their sales at the end of October.

Black Friday shopping is not for the faint of heart. But with careful planning, perseverance, and a sense of humor, you might come home with a big screen TV or cashmere sweater at a fraction of its usual cost.

Here’s how:

Make A Plan

You wouldn’t travel to a strange city without first checking a map, and neither should you venture into Best Buy or Wal-Mart without some idea of what you plan to buy. Many of the major retail chains have already leaked their Black Friday circulars, which you can peruse right now on shopping websites like these:

http://www.black-friday.net/
http://www.blackfriday2010.com
http://bfads.net/
http://www.blackfriday.info/

Make A List

The merchandisers are tricky; they will do all they can to distract you from your goals by loading the aisles with fresh, shiny objects. Tackle the items on your list first; then you can evaluate any surprises you may encounter.

Pick A Team

Shopping Black Friday is a lot more efficient – and fun – if you do it with friends. You’ll cover a lot more ground by consolidating your lists and assigning the electronic purchases to one team member and the cashmere sweaters to another, etc.

Black Friday checkout lines are long, so one member of the team can hold your place while the rest of the group fans out and locates the list items.

I know people who get really into the social aspect of the activity. They wear matching t-shirts in bright colors so they can find each other easily. Some even bring walkie talkies so they can communicate through the chaos.

If your family and friends are the types who don’t relish spending Thanksgiving night waiting for Wal-Mart to open, don’t let that stop you. Go, and use that time in line to make some new friends. They can probably use another team member. At any rate, you’ll be glad to have someone to hold your place should you need to leave the line to use the restroom.

Strategize!

Once you’ve got your list, you can select your first shopping destination accordingly. The less driving between stores, the better — so pick a shopping center that will accommodate as many items on your list as possible.

If you’ve got the time, do some store reconnaissance before the big day. If a big screen TV is on your list and the store is selling just 100 at an advertised low, low price, you will want to dash directly to the television aisle. Some people I know go as far as to draw maps of their Black Friday battlegrounds.

Here are some local shopping centers that have a nice variety of Black Friday stores, specials and places to grab a bite and some coffee. You’re going to need it:

Glendale Galleria

100 West Broadway, Suite 700
Glendale, California 91210
(818) 246-6737
More Info

This huge mall’s anchors are Nordstrom, Macy’s, JC Penney and Target. More than 100 other stores and restaurants, including Abercrombie & Fitch, Aeropostale, American Eagle Outfitters, Apple, Brookstone, Champs Sports, Disney Store, Eddie Bauer, Foot Locker, Forever 21, Hollister, Lane Bryant, LUSH, Michael Kors, Naartjie, PacSun, Sephora, Torrid, Victoria’s Secret, Williams-Sonoma.

More Info On Black Friday

Black Friday hours: 5 AM – 10 PM.

“Shoppers who spend $100 on the morning of November 26th will receive a $10 Shop Etc. Gift Card when they present their valid receipts at the Merrier Shopping Redemption Zone located in the Ann Taylor Wing during the following hours 5:00am-11:00am.”

Lakewood Center

500 Lakewood Center Mall
Lakewood, CA 90712
(562) 531-6707
More Info

Between big box stores like Best Buy, Target, Home Depot and Costco, department stores like JC Penney and Macy’s plus all the usual chain stores, you should be able to find everything on your list right here. But be prepared to arrive right after your Thanksgiving dinner, as Black Friday shopping begins promptly at Midnight. Visit the website for individual store hours and promotions.

The Marketplace

2915 El Camino Real
Irvine, CA 92782
(714) 730-4124
More Info

Nice mix of huge stores, including Babies R Us, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, GameStop, Home Depot, The, Lane Bryant, Loehmann’s, Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse, OfficeMax, Old Navy, Petsmart, Pier 1 Imports, Ritz Camera, Ross Dress For Less, Sports Authority, Target, and Toys R Us. Check individual stores for Black Friday hours.

Westfield Topanga Plaza

6600 Topanga Canyon Boulevard
Canoga Park, CA 91303
(818) 594.8740
More Info

One of the nice things about the San Fernando Valley’s largest mall is that you can shop at Target and Nieman-Marcus – and everything in between. According to Topanga Plaza’s website, the mall doesn’t open until 7:00, however, Target is advertising that its doors are opening at 4:00. Feel free to kill time at the Best Buy across the street from the East parking structure.

Westfield Culver City

6000 Sepulveda Boulevard
Culver City CA 90230-6482
(310) 390 – 5073
More Info

Westfield’s sparkling new Culver City mall opens at 6:00 AM Black Friday. Get set to shop your favorite stores, which include Aeropostale, American Eagle Outfitters, Best Buy, Disney Store, Finish Line, Foot Locker, GameStop, H&M, Hollister Co., JCPenney, Lane Bryant, Macy’s , Old Navy Target, The Children’s Place, Victoria’s Secret, and XXI Forever.

Inland Center

500 Inland Center Drive
San Bernardino, CA 92408
(909) 884-7268
More Info

Sears and Macy’s and some other stores will be welcoming shoppers at 4:00 AM, Forever 21 at 5:00, others at 6:00. The rest will open their doors at 10:00.
Visit the website for a full listing of Black Friday special promotions and events.

Revel In The Unusual

Sure, a mall’s a mall, but on Circus Friday – er, I mean Black Friday – they pull out all the stops. At the Janss Center in Thousand Oaks, Santa will arrive via parachute at high noon, and there will be a play area with real snow.

Janss Marketplace

275 North Moorpark Road
Thousand Oaks, CA 91360
(805) 495 – 4662
More Info

Go Local

If crowded parking lots and long lines aren’t your thing, and if finding unique and/or handcrafted items is, you might forgo the mall and big box stores altogether and opt for local, individually owned boutiques.

Jenette Bras

4308 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90029
(323) 665-7490
More Info

It’s Black Bra Friday at Jenette Bras – 20-40% off every black bra in this specialty boutique for the generously busted lady. Special attention given to gents who shop for their women.

Meltdown

7522 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 851-7223
More Info

Hourly specials run down the day at Meltdown Comics, a 9000 square foot cornucopia of comics, pop culture, and funkadelic goodness. The store opens at the wee early hour of…10am, and closes later than usual, too.

The Ivory Suite

803 Meridian Ave.
South Pasadena CA, 91030
(626) 799-2991
More Info

Looking for a wedding gown? Kind of an unusual time to get it but heading out on Black Friday may help put you in a fancy white dress for less. The Ivory Suite in small-town South Pasadena will sell couture sample gowns and other items for up to 75% off, plus they will offer photography package discounts as well.

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