When Katie Dalrymple embarks on her annual after-Thanksgiving shopping trip, she does so with almost military precision.
The 29-year-old from Tuscumbia gathers sale fliers from various stores and determines her targets before she leaves home.
Her mother and sister usually join her to be sure they snag all the Black Friday specials on the list.
"We map it out," Dalrymple said while waiting in line with several others outside the LifeWay Christian Book Store. "We only spend 25-30 minutes in each store."
Each person has a specific item to acquire. If they don't find it, they move to the next one on the list.
"It's very strategic," she said. "We got everything on our list so far."
Dalrymple was among thousands of shoppers who came out on one of the busiest shopping days of the Christmas holiday. Shoals residents were joined by shoppers from places such as Red Bay, Hodges and Collinwood, Tenn.
"I enjoy it," she said. "It's a fun part of Thanksgiving for us."
Dalrymple said bargain shopping is essential this year.
She said her family is spending less because her husband is out of work.
In Florence, shoppers and police reported the largest crowds when stores began offering deals on Thanksgiving Day and after midnight when stores like Best Buy opened.
Wal-Mart began offering different deals at different times of the day.
Sarah Jones, a manager at Target, said the store opened at 9 p.m. Thursday, and the lines didn't start getting long until about 8 p.m.
By 6 a.m. Friday, the Target parking lot resembled a normal shopping day.
Items like deeply discounted flat-screen televisions were the first to go, Jones said.
"It's comparing to last year," Jones said. "We're right on target to do the same as last year."
She said shoppers were orderly and courteous. Florence police helped with crowd control.
"I really found that compared to previous years, the shoppers were really overly friendly and generous this year," shopper Amber Harrison said.
Johnny Beckman, of Killen, said he, his wife and stepson, headed out at 7 a.m.
"Normally we go out and look for the doorbuster sales," Beckman said.
Beckman said he searched for a television, but missed out at every store until he found one at Target.
"It's probably one of the big items this year," he said.
Jerdie Ayers and her mother, Judy Ayers, from Collinwood, started their shopping quest at 5 a.m. at Best Buy in Florence.
"We were looking for an iPad," Jerdie Ayers said.
Judy Ayers said they found a drill for her husband at Lowe's.
Ayers said she suspects the crowds were smaller Friday morning because of stores opening on Thanksgiving.
The J.C. Penney store at Regency Square Mall in Florence still was busy at 7:30 a.m. Each checkout lane was swarmed with shoppers.
Ada Jones, of Muscle Shoals, sat near the store entrance, waiting on her daughter and granddaughter.
Jones said she has been participating in after Thanksgiving shopping since the 1970s.
"It's a tradition with us," she said.
Jones said she likes the fellowship aspect of joining others in the search for discounted gifts.
"I hear about other people's aches and pains, and they hear about mine," she said. "It's a good day of fellowship for me."
Her daughter, Jackie Thompson, said she came to Penney's for a coffee maker, which she didn't find.
"We found some $5 towels," said her daughter, Marilyn Thompson.
Taking a philosophical look at Black Friday shopping, Thompson said if you can't find the items you were looking for, you weren't meant to have them.
Tiffany Morrow, of Florence, started at Wal-Mart on Thursday and was in line at the LifeWay book store waiting for the store to open.
Morrow found several items at Wal-Mart, including two Garmin GPS units.
Morrow added she is spending more than she did in 2011.
John Coco, manager of the Kmart in Muscle Shoals, said about 250 people were outside before the store opened at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
"We had a great sale," Coco said. "It went really smoothly. We had a lot of people who got the items they wanted and some that didn't get what they wanted."
He said the store closed at 4 p.m. and reopened at 8 p.m. for a new round of specials. About 300 people were waiting outside.
"We had a record Thanksgiving Day," Coco said.
Beckman said he enjoys shopping in the Shoals because people are more laid back and the crowds are "pretty docile."
"I would never attempt to go to a larger city like Huntsville or Nashville," Beckman said. "We actually enjoy sitting in the lines and meeting new people. Everybody there kind of wants to have a good time. All the stores we were at, the people were very helpful and nice. It's a fun experience when it's like that."
Russ Corey can be reached at 256-740-5738 or russ.corey@TimesDaily.com.