A dedicated cadre of shoppers determined to snag some bargains left their Thanksgiving fixings to head to a select but growing number of stores that opened Thursday night in the Twin Cities.

Consumers thronged to Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Target stores, among others, to take advantage of doorbusters, price matches and deep discounts in a holiday season expected to be tepid in a still-skittish economy. Lines of 200 to 300 people were reported at big-box stores in the Twin Cities as temperatures dipped into the teens.

“It was sunny when I got here,” said Heather Mills of Plymouth, who arrived at the Minnetonka Target at 2 p.m. — in plenty of time for the discounter’s 8 p.m. opening.

She and her brother Chris Nelson of Wayzata — officially first in line — took turns standing outside and sitting in a warm car through the afternoon. Both were in search of iPads and a big-screen TV, two popular doorbusters offered by the Minneapolis-based retailer. “We just planned our Thanksgiving dinner early so we could come out,” Mills said.

On Friday morning, Target and Wal-Mart issued statements that suggested opening on Thursday had been worthwhile financially for them. Target also said that business on its target.com website doubled on Thursday compared to a year-ago.

As more shoppers headed to stores on Friday, investors gave a lift to retail stocks in a holiday-shortened trading day. Best Buy shares were up more than 1% in early trading.

The lure of Black Friday, so named because it traditionally pushed retailers’ financial ledgers into the black, has turned a bit muddled in recent years, as more retailers opted to open on Thanksgiving. This year, Best Buy and Wal-Mart opened their doors at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, and Target, Macy’s, J.C. Penney and Kohl’s followed two hours later. Bill Martin, founder of the market research firm ShopperTrak, said Thanksgiving store openings tend to generate much attention, but the amount of revenue the day actually generates is small in comparison — still — to Black Friday.

“While shopping on Thanksgiving is growing in popularity, it will still end up being a footnote in the holiday season,” Martin said. Last year’s Thanksgiving sales were about $800 million vs. $500 million in 2011, compared with “any other Thursday in November” that would typically generate about $2.8 billion in sales, he added.

In Roseville, the parking lots near Rosedale, Kohl’s and Best Buy were busy but not at capacity. Frank DeVito of Minneapolis estimated there were about 100 shoppers in front of him as he joined the line outside Kohl’s minutes before it opened. He said his sister talked him into shopping. “Thanksgiving is for families,” he said. “I’d rather have waited until Friday.”

For the first time, the National Retail Federation asked shoppers in its annual holiday survey this year if they plan to shop on Thanksgiving. Nearly 24 percent (33 million people) said yes.

Many of the shoppers at the Minnetonka Target on Thursday clutched advertising fliers and appeared to have a set gift list in mind as they charged in when doors opened at 8 p.m.

For Vern Strand of Mound, it was the iPad Air, which was selling for $479 at Target, regularly $499, although buyers of the device received a $100 gift card from the retailer, plus another 5 percent off for using a Target Redcard. “My wife thinks I’m out of my mind,” the retired schoolteacher confided. “I stood out there for maybe 30 minutes, and I kind of enjoyed it.”

Outside, Target doled out coffee to the mittened masses, plus Clif nutrition bars attached to maps of the store detailing where the hot gifts were located. And the retailer’s bulldog mascot, Bullseye, was on hand wearing a red down coat and some serious doggy bling for photo opps.

Accenture expected most of the shoppers on Thanksgiving Day to be younger, from 18 to 34. Nearly 61 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds said they would be out shopping on Thanksgiving compared with 31 percent of 45- to 59-year-olds. Crowds at Rosedale and Southdale fell in line with that demographic.

In a season with six fewer shopping days this year, retailers began cutting prices well before Thanksgiving and Black Friday. In fact, discounter Kmart, which has seven stores in the Twin Cities, began its holiday layaway program 105 days before Christmas. Last week, Wal-Mart announced it was matching the prices of nearly 100 Black Friday specials from competitors on the Friday before Black Friday. Best Buy joined the fray, announcing specials good Nov. 22-23.

Activity inside Rosedale and Ridgedale appeared to be sporadic, with some stores opening on Thanksgiving and others not. Macy’s opened at 8 p.m., and activity in its Ridgedale store was mixed. Jewelry and cosmetics were fairly quiet, while a scrum quickly formed over a doorbuster offering Rampage ladies’ boots for $19.99. By 9 p.m., half of Ridgedale’s parking lot was packed.

Up to 40 percent of retailers’ annual sales are rung up during the holiday season, totaling about $580 billion last year. Retailers were hoping this year’s Black Friday weekend (including Thanksgiving) would result in bigger sales than last year, when sales actually fell 1.8 percent.

But recent reports from the National Retail Federation suggest that isn’t going to happen. Nearly 140 million shoppers are expected to shop in stores or online from Thanksgiving to Sunday, a decrease of about 7 million from last year. Experts say a sluggish economy continues to discourage shoppers from all-out spending sprees.

Stacy Nieman of Eden Prairie said it was worth interrupting her holiday to make a trip to the Minnetonka Toys ‘R’ Us. The mother of four said she saved $250. Then? “My family is still at home; that’s where I’m headed,” she said.