The kickoff used to come on Black Friday, but now many stores open with deals as starting on Turkey Day itself.
And this year we have a shorter-than-usual shopping season, so many retailers are not wasting a moment.
RELATED: 7 tips to survive Black Friday
Most stores open in the afternoon or evening - 2pm or 5pm - but K-Mart opened bright and early Thursday morning.
Eyewitness News was at the store in Soundview as dozens of customers flooded in 6 a.m.
Many shoppers we talked to seemed to have a primary focus: toys.
"I need to get something for my granddaughter," said Johnny Chisholm.
Ernestine Johnson said she was first in line.
"Dedicated grandma, yes I am," she said. "I love my grandchild. I was talking to her last night, and she kept saying, 'Nanny! Frozen! Frozen!'"
Ernestine found a deal and didn't want to leave it.
And she wasn't the only one who found what they were looking for.
"Oh my gosh," said Maria Cornier. "We got a really good deal. So his bike was $88, mine was less than $90."
These shoppers also told us there is a method to getting in the shopping before the big meal.
"I think this is the best time," said Johnny Chisholm. "Six in the morning, everybody's still sleeping."
"I like to come early, this way I can go out to eat," said Ernestine Johnson. "The other stores, their sale starts at 5 and 4."
"We wanted to beat the Black Friday rush," said Maria Cornier. "So we thought, 'Why not come today if it's the same price?'"
Crowds also gathered at Macy's in Herald Square for the Black Friday kickoff. The deals will continue beyond Cyber Monday, but for some there's just something about being there among the masses.
"Thanksgiving used to be a day set aside for us to gather around with families and all that traditional stuff but something about the cheap prices, it draws you like a magnet," said Dashawn Bethea. "You can't help it, you get the bug. Once you try Black Friday theres no going back."
The throng of shoppers at Macy's also included plenty of tourists.
"I really thought the rest of the city would be quiet this afternoon. Not so quiet!", said Wendy Hayton of England.
Online deals have already started for many retailers, and they are doing what they can to get shoppers off their computers, out of their homes, and into their brick-and-mortar stores with in-store only deals.
Some of the shopping apps offer discounts that can only be used in stores as well.
"Online retailers are creating different sales tactics to get people returning back to their websites," says consumer expert Andrea Woroch. "So instead of offering a sale for a couple days or even one day, if you offer a sale for just one hour or a couple hours, that's going to get a consumer returning back to your site multiple times."
Shoppers will find that most big-ticket items go on sale starting Thanksgiving Day.
* More New York City news
* Send us a news tip
* Download the abc7NY app for breaking news alerts
* Follow us on YouTube