LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Carol Larkin will not shop on Thanksgiving. Even though she lives directly behind the a Kroger supermarket, she won't even stop for a last-minute item on the way to her family feast Thursday at a sister's house.
"I want to spend the day with my family," said Larkin, 59.
But while Thanksgiving shopping refuseniks like Larkin are vocal in their complaints about the increasing encroachment into the holiday's sanctity, they may be fighting a losing battle, as retailers open early to lure shoppers on tight budgets.
Nearly one in four people responding to a recent survey by the National Retail Federation say they will shop on Thanksgiving.
Indeed, while a handful of major retailers - like Lowe's, Von Maur, Cabela's, Costco, Sam's Club and Nordstrom Rack - are holding out for a traditional Black Friday morning opening, an estimated 33 million people, or 23 percent of those surveyed by the retail federation, say Thanksgiving will find them in stores at some point.
Nearly 70 percent, an estimated 97 million shoppers, say they'll be out on Black Friday.
"It is evident that Americans are in the holiday spirit, despite their cautious approach to spending," said Pam Goodfellow, director of Consumer Insights at Prosper Insights & Analytics, a Worthingon, Ohio, firm that polled more than 6,000 consumers for the NRF survey.
Experts cite three major factors for retailers' desire to grab every possible shopping hour.
-- First, this year's holiday shopping season runs just 27 days, the shortest stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas since 2002, according to the national retail group.
-- Second, retailers are nervous about spending, as consumers continue to cope with stagnant or declining wages amid overall concern about the economy. Consumer confidence unexpectedly fell this month to a two-year low, or a score of 72 by Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index. That is lower than October's score of 73.2 and the 74.5 predicted by economists.
In all, we are expected to spend 2 percent less - an average $738 each this holiday season - compared with last year, the NRF reported. And locally, three out of four Kentucky independent retailers report somber expectations for the holiday shopping season, according to the Kentucky Retail Federation.
"There is not as much disposable income," KRF Executive Director Tod Griffin said of the trade group's annual holiday survey of 6,000 retailers statewide. The poll also found that businesses say they are financially in the same shape, or worse, than last year at this time.
Griffin said consumers and business owners alike are rattled by the recent government shutdown, uncertainty about health care costs, and the stagnant job market. "There are a lot of things out there that are not helping the economy stabilize."
-- Third, in many markets, there is simply less money to spend.
Incomes are drifting downward as many laid-off workers find employment, but often at lower pay rates than before. In the Louisville area, median income per capita is estimated at $42,500 this year, down 5.2 percent from $44,833 in 2012, according to the latest guidelines by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Bonifacio Aleman, a single dad of two teens who lives in Louisville, said he's among those feeling the pinch - and for many reasons, he's trimming his already tight holiday budget from $75 last year to $50 this holiday season.
"It has become so commercial, it makes me sick," said Aleman, executive director of Kentucky Jobs With Justice, a nonprofit advocacy group. "We get in this frenzy and go broke and not pay our bills to buy stuff for the holidays. Too many of us wind up in financial crisis because of it."
Still, a good number of shoppers relish the bargains brought by Thanksgiving Day shopping - a day becoming known as "Black Friday Eve." One in five consumers say it gives people a fun activity to do on Thanksgiving, according to a recent email survey by RetailMeNot, a digital coupon website.
Antonia Peagler, for example, will be working Friday, so she views the opening of more stores on Thanksgiving as an opportunity. In particular, Peagler said she is looking forward to the 9 a.m. opening Thursday of Old Navy stores in Louisville. An Old Navy fleece pullover is her standard gift for the men in her family every year.
"I stop at Old Navy every year," said Peagler, though she adds, "If the lines are too long, I can go online and get the same deal there."
If Peagler decides to stay home and shop online during the holiday, she'll have plenty of company. In addition to sharing time with family and friends around the table, 64 percent of survey respondents said they will scope out deals online on Thursday, while 37 percent said they will press mobile apps into use to scan or purchase items, according to the RetailMeNot survey.
This Thursday will be the third Thanksgiving that store manager William Johnson will open his Target store in Louisville. He expects lines will start forming around 4 p.m. for the 8 p.m. opening - and says the crowds are better than those who traditionally waited for Black Friday openings.
"They are not sleep-deprived. They have eaten," Johnson said. "They don't want to stay home and watch football all night long. And they'll get to bed by midnight instead of standing outside in the wee hours of the morning."
The store's better for it too, since the first wave of customers will wane between midnight and 6 a.m., leaving time to restock.
"After you totally get destroyed, you can put Humpty Dumpty back together again and restock," he said.
Jere Downs, The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal