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After helping Black Friday customers, Dominica Toledo takes a second to freshen up her lips as she works the Estee Lauder counter in Macy's at the Valley Plaza.

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Twelve-year-old Monica Romero grabs a quick nap as she waits for her family, which was shopping at Valley Plaza. With some of the mall's stores opening at midnight, Romero and her family arrived at the Plaza at 7 p.m. Thanksgiving evening to take advantage of the Black Friday sales.

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Nineteen-year-old Karely Cejo rests her head on a clothing rack as she waits in line at JC Penney in the Valley Plaza on Black Friday. She had been shopping since 2 a.m.

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Joe Hernandez keeps an eye on the tinsel-carrying helicopter he was flying around the RC Helicopter kiosk at the Valley Plaza.

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An employee of Aeropostale in the Valley Plaza stands above a sea of shoppers as people crowd the store looking for bargains on Black Friday in this 2012 photo.

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Shoppers crowded the Valley Plaza mall on Black Friday looking for the perfect gift and starting the holiday shopping season for 2012.

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The Sprint kiosk had a steady stream of customers surrounding its booth in Valley Plaza on Black Friday in this 2012 photo.

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Felix Adamo / The Californian

This checkout line at JC Penney was long but orderly on Black Friday.

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Felix Adamo / The Californian

Stacy Armstrong, left, and her aunt, Laurie Brown, go to their car to drop off gifts only to return for more shopping at the Valley Plaza. Armstrong does all her Christmas shopping on this one day.

There are Black Friday shoppers, and then there are Black Friday shoppers.

Stacy Armstrong and her aunt, Laurie Brown, set out about 7:30 p.m. Thanksgiving Day in a red Ford Fusion painted with the words "Black Friday" on the rear window and "shopping ninja" on the sides.

They started out picking up crafts at Michael's, "just to kill some time until Target opened," Armstrong said.

Then they snagged five discounted television sets at Target before moving on to Valley Plaza, where they were still going at sunrise, pausing intermittently to load their trunks when the baby stroller they had brought along became too full of bags.

It's a ritual they have engaged in for years, joining throngs of holiday shoppers whose pursuit of so-called door buster prices has been inching earlier and earlier.

"We may get delirious and laugh hysterically every once in a while, but we're awake," Armstrong joked after about 10 hours of shopping.

"We're having fun," Brown added.

There were people camping outside Best Buy as early as Wednesday. Toys R Us, Walmart and Sears were among stores that kicked off specials beginning 9 p.m. Thursday.

For the second year in a row, Macy's opened at midnight Friday.

"We had statistical information from last year to go off of so we were prepared," said Brenda Galvez, manager of Macy's at Valley Plaza. "We hired more people, and we provided our employees with lunch so they're holding up OK working overnight."

By about 6 a.m., crowds at the department store had begun to thin, but Galvez said she anticipated another wave would come through as others woke up.

J.C. Penney held its ground, opening at 6 a.m. to long lines of people, most of whom had already been shopping for hours.

Noting that lines to get into the store when it opened were some 200 feet long, store manager George Cruz said the late start -- by Black Friday standards -- wasn't hurting sales.

"We had the same competitive situation last year, with Macy's opening at midnight. They shop there first, and then they come here afterwards," he said.

Shoppers were willing to wait for $15 bluejeans and $5 scarves, among other specials.

Jordan Neufeld, owner of the RC Helicopter kiosk at Valley Plaza, said he thought there were fewer people at the mall early this year, the novelty of a midnight opening having worn off.

"Last year I'd guess we had twice as many sales," he said. "But there's still time. Hopefully it will pick up. I'll stay open as long as I can stand before I give up and go get some sleep."

Some, such as Vernell Christopher, 50, split up the shopping. She went to Macy's at midnight to score some 1,000-thread count sheets for about half their usual price, then slept until 4 a.m., when she set out again.

"I've been coming every year for 10 years or so," she said at about 6:30 a.m. while standing in a JC Penney check-out line that stretched all the way to the escalator. "I just like the excitement, the adrenalin, the run, the race for the deals."

That's what continues to make Black Friday relevant despite stores sprinkling door buster sales over days, or even weeks.

"They've really changed the definition of Black Friday to be more than a day," said Jeff Green of Jeff Green Partners, a Phoenix-based retail consulting firm. "It's the only day of the year that lasts more than 24 hours. But they've diluted the definition of Black Friday, but not the impact."

Crowds continue to pour in despite the fact the deals aren't necessarily better than what you'd find at other times of the year.

The Wall Street Journal and consumer research firm Decide Inc. analyzed prices over several years and concluded products generally get more expensive as the holidays approach. In some cases, the best prices could be had in March.

But then you'd miss out on the fun of a sleep-deprived stagger through a sea of colorful merchandise as Christmas carols play.

And you wouldn't see Forever 21 sales people dancing to deafening techno music at the entrance to the store, beckoning passersby by announcing specials on microphones.

Danielle Enriquez, 19, brought friend Emily Evans, also 19, to the mall at midnight to experience the madness for the first time.

She wasn't impressed.

"It's not worth it," Evans said yawning over some bracelets at Macy's at about 6 a.m. "I don't think the prices are all that much better."

But she had no regrets.

"It was on my bucket list," Evans said. "You've got to do it once in your life."

J.W. Nichals, 71, had no such conviction as he pushed a shopping cart with a large tool cabinet in it toward his truck about 7 a.m. Friday.

There was a limit to how early he was willing to rise, he said outside a northeast Bakersfield Home Depot. He'd only come out Friday because he'd been in the market for a tool cabinet and the price was about half what you'd normally pay.

"I just came for this one thing," he said. "It was a great, great deal. But I'm done. I'm too old for all the crowds. I won't do it next year."