National retailers will give shoppers little time for second helpings of turkey this Thanksgiving.

Local stores such as Sears, Kmart, Walmart, Toys R Us and Target will launch their Black Friday sales on Thursday as they try to lure customers with early bargains.

More than 147 million Americans are expected to take advantage of Black Friday discounts this year, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey. That is 5 million fewer than last year.

But this audience still represents a tempting target for retailers, many of whom have struggled in the wake of the recession.

“Black Friday is like the Super Bowl for retailers,” said Steve Restivo, spokesman for Arkansas-based Walmart. “At Walmart, we intend to win.”

Walmart, also the nation’s largest grocer, normally keeps its doors open throughout Thanksgiving. But its Black Friday specials will go into effect at 8 p.m. Thursday, he said. More sales will follow to give shoppers incentive to return or a chance to catch later deals.

More than 1 million of the chain’s 1.3 million employees will work over the holiday weekend, he said.

Likewise, the Hamilton Mall in Mays Landing will host a Midnight Shopping Party sponsored by SoJo 104.9. The mall has been preparing for weeks for this six-week holiday shopping season, General Manager Bill Schu said.

“Santa arrived last weekend,” Schu said. “We put up our Christmas décor on Nov. 4. Obviously, we’ll be putting in long hours. But it’s only six weeks. Then we get back to normal. Most stores are looking forward to it.”

Schu said Hurricane Sandy will make business even more difficult for South Jersey retailers this holiday season.

“It hasn’t been easy for them since the recession. The storm hasn’t helped,” he said.

But not all national retailers are jumping on the “Black Thursday” bandwagon. JC Penney CEO Ron Johnson sent customers an email notice informing them its stores would be closed all day Thursday.

“I know that some retailers are opening on Thanksgiving this year,” he wrote. “But spending Thanksgiving with family is one of America’s greatest traditions. Since JCP was founded on the Golden Rule, I’m proud to honor this tradition by keeping our stores closed on this special day.”

Instead, JC Penney will open its doors at 6 a.m. Friday for its sale. Stores such as Kohl’s and Best Buy will open at midnight Thursday night.

Toni Bracey, 67, of Egg Harbor Township, said steep discounts are not enough reason to leave the Thanksgiving table early to brave the crowds, long lines and traffic.

“Absolutely not. I’m too old for that!” she said.

But she said she would probably hit a few stores for her Christmas list on Friday.

“I started two months ago. I’m lucky. I have a lot of family and friends to buy for,” she said. “I’ve already started wrapping.”

About half of shoppers polled by the National Retail Federation said they intended to do their holiday shopping on Friday while the other half said they would wait to see what bargains were available first.

Nationwide, members of United Food and Commercial Workers Union plan to picket Walmart and circulate pro-labor literature to shoppers on behalf of store workers the union claims are being treated unfairly. The union’s Local 152 based in Mays Landing plans to hold a rally outside the Walmart store in Mays Landing.

“We’re out there to support he middle-class worker,” union spokesman Gerald Chudoff said. “People are having a hard time making a living working at Walmart. The wages and benefits aren’t competitive.”

Walmart’s Restivo dismissed the criticism as unfounded.

“Those allegations aren’t supported by fact,” he said. “We have 250,000 associates who have worked for the company for more than 10 years. We promoted 160,000 hourly associates last year alone. Our turnover rate is lower than the retail industrial average.”

The average Walmart employee in New Jersey makes $12.94 per hour, more than the company’s national average of $12.57, he said.

Restivo said the store will offer three hot meals for its employees over Thanksgiving and Black Friday along with the incentive of 20 percent discounts on merchandise for working the holiday.

For shoppers, home electronics such as flat-screen televisions and tablet computers are expected to be big sellers this year, Restivo said.

Buena Vista Township resident Bridget McCrosson, 54, said her grown daughter is making Thanksgiving dinner this year. She expects this will free her up to do some early shopping on Thursday. She plans to study some of the circulars to see what’s available.

“I’ll probably just go a little early. The trick is to do your homework ahead of time,” she said.

So, what will be the must-have gift for South Jersey this Christmas?

“Generators!” she said laughing.

Contact Michael Miller:

609-272-7217