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Are Black Friday stores saying goodbye to Thanksgiving hours?

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(Read caption) Target shoppers Kelly Foley, left, Debbie Winslow, center, and Ann Rich use a smartphone to look at a competitor's prices while shopping shortly after midnight on Black Friday, in South Portland, Maine.

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We don't remember shoppers ever getting so riled up about a doorbuster as they do about Black Friday's ongoing encroachment on Thanksgiving's turf. A few retailers already have announced or hinted at their Black Friday plans for 2015, and for the first time we're seeing signs that perhaps the tide is starting to retreat.

Black Friday In-Store Hours: 2007-2014

We published this chart last year showing how Black Friday has been pushed earlier and earlier over the last eight years.

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In 2007, the average start time was right around 5am on Black Friday. Retailers understood better than anyone that the early bird gets the worm, opening earlier and earlier until in 2014 the average start time was 6pm on Thursday. This shift has prompted many to wryly dub Thanksgiving "Black Thursday" or "Gray Thursday."

Charting a trajectory through to 2015, it's easy to speculate that Thursday 4pm will be the norm for those retailers who are planning Thanksgiving hours.

Opting Out: Staples and GameStop

Staples was the first relatively large retailer to announce its Black Friday hours, pulling its start back to 6am on Black Friday for the first time since 2011.

“We want our customers and associates to enjoy Thanksgiving their own way,” said Demos Parneros, president, North American stores and online, Staples. “On Thanksgiving Day, customers can shop from home on Staples.com and then continue their shopping in stores starting at 6 a.m. on Black Friday. Whether our customers like the convenience of shopping online, in our stores or a combination of both, Staples will have amazing products at great prices throughout the holiday season.”

GameStop likewise took a stand when it declared a 5am Black Friday start time.

“We believe strongly that our customers and associates should have the opportunity to spend the Thanksgiving holiday relaxing with family and friends, and not worrying with the stress of where to find the best shopping deals. We know this is in stark contrast to what many other retailers are doing, but we are taking a stance to protect family time during this important holiday,” said Mike Buskey, executive vice president and president of U.S. Stores.

It's worth noting, however, that although they posted a midnight start from 2011 to 2014, GameStop has never actually opened on Thanksgiving anyway. On the other hand, the move really does make it easier for GameStop employees to enjoy some turkey and cranberries with their families.

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Even if it is just puffery in some corners, it's clear that many retailers are starting to see value in dropping their in-store Thanksgiving sales. And they're not doing so quietly, instead choosing to making it part of their strategy to attract shoppers. The executive quotes we've seen so far strike a tone that is simultaneously nostalgic, defiant, and family-oriented, clearly setting themselves up as one of the good guys in the Gray Thursday debate. Look for more retailers to make their own pro-Thanksgiving announcements over the next few weeks.

Starting Even Earlier: Belk, Shopko and Harbor Freight (Rumored)

Our discussion of Belk and Shopko is built purely on rumors and speculation, but we also believe it's likely to be the way things go: While some retailers are decamping back to Friday, others will be pushing their hours even earlier.

Shopko hasn't made a formal announcement yet, but in April seemed to strongly implythat Thanksgiving in-store hours would be back for 2015 when an intrepid reporter asked the Green Bay-based company if the Bears-Packers game scheduled for Thanksgiving Day would affect their Black Friday plans. (Life in Green Bay revolves around the Packers, after all.)

“While business at our Green Bay and Wisconsin locations may start off slower than normal that evening, as our Wisconsin-based customers root on their hometown team, we expect it will be business as usual for the vast majority of our stores.”

We also heard this week that Belk is rumored to be planning a 4pm Wednesday start time for their Black Friday Buys, and a 6pm start on Thanksgiving. While this rumor is truly unsubstantiated, it sounds plausible to our team of seasoned Black Friday experts.

Finally, it looks like Harbor Freight is likely planning a Thanksgiving opening for the first time, if aBlack Friday sale banner on their website is to be believed. While some others are claiming this page is the Black Friday ad, we have a lot of reservations about it. Where are the doorbusters? Why are all of the items on this page on sale now? Will they still be at those prices on Black Friday? The banner at the top lists sale dates of 11/26-11/29, however, which would extend Harbor Freight's usual 3-day sale to 4 days, beginning on Thanksgiving Day. But with so many questions lingering, it's not much to go on.

As we mentioned above, we're projecting that 4pm Thursday will be the most popular start time for those retailers who are still willing to compete with your turkey dinner. On the other hand, it's not out of the question that some, like Belk, will repeat last year's hours rather than step even further into the fray. It's also a reasonable guess that some retailers might look to Wednesday as a way to sidestep the Thanksgiving controversy altogether.

No one from this side of the fence will be in any hurry to make their announcements since it only prolongs the backlash.

The Big Guns: Walmart, Target and Best Buy

It's too early to know what the big boxes have up their sleeves for 2015, but we can speculate. Large retailers like WalmartTarget and Best Buy are less sensitive to the financial impact of a Thanksgiving backlash than smaller outfits and will draw crowds regardless of what they decide to do thanks to the best-of-class doorbusters and inventory guarantees that they offer. That leads us to believe that we won't see much change for Black Friday 2015 - though we'd happy to be surprised.

This article first appeared in Brad's Deals.