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Sears and Toys “R” Us are the latest retailers to break with tradition and open on the holiday itself, while Gap is expanding the number of its Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic stores open today.

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“The trick in retail is always to be the first place shoppers go,” said Ellen Davis of the National Retail Federation.

For several years, retailers have been moving up their opening times on Black Friday — so-nicknamed because holiday profits are often crucial to moving retailers’ annual books into the black.

And Thanksgiving shopping has gained popularity.

Davis cited a consumer survey showing that 18 million Americans shopped last year on Thanksgiving Day, up from 10 million in 2005. While most of that shopping originally was online, some brick-and-mortar stores took notice and stepped in to meet the demand.

“We expect to see this trend continue,” said Davis. “Each year, a few more retailers will jump on the bandwagon.”

Sears stores will be open from 7 a.m. to noon today in the Greater Houston area and nationwide.

“People’s time is really at a premium right now,” said Susan Wheeler, general manager of the Main Street Sears near downtown. “We wanted to give people an extra day to get in and get their shopping done.”

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