By Robbie Owens

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – On a tradition-filled day that’s been all about food, family and football, there’s a new sport in town: shopping.

“We look forward to this all year long,” exclaimed JCPenney General Manager Phil Ornelaz, greeting customers at their Northwest Highway store. “A great day, great day.”

The Thanksgiving afternoon-opening, plus the promise of in-store deals, drew long lines of customers waiting for the doors to open.

“This is the only store we’re coming in,” said Saul and Jessica. “And then we’ll have dinner with our family.”

Shopper Valencia Johnson added that it’s become a tradition to go for the deals on Thanksgiving, instead of the turkey and dressing.

“Not worried about that,” she added with a laugh, stressing that she prefers shopping early.

Whether in the stores or online, economists say shoppers are in good spirits, and that’s great news for retailers.

“People have more money, wages have slowly grown and consumer confidence is better,” said Ed Fox, a marketing professor at SMU’s Cox School of Business. “But, people are still looking for bargains.”

And gone are the days when you have to wait until Friday to get them. But, that doesn’t mean that every brick-and-mortar store is bucking tradition by opening early.

“Now, a lot of the retailers are offering the sales days, even a week prior,” said Martha Hinojosa with Galleria Dallas. “Consumer sentiment has changed, so we’re changing with it.”

So the Galleria Dallas is now saying “no” to the mall-wide Thanksgiving opening. Some anchor stores will open Thanksgiving evening. But, the mall plans to wait and kick off the holidays in a major way on Friday.

“On Friday at noon, we are having our grand tree lighting celebration,” said Hinojosa. “We have fireworks, we have a Santa Claus that has sparks coming off his skates! It’s a spectacle for everybody to see.”