The following story has been updated from an earlier version to reflect the J.C. Penney statement. 

TheStreet reporter Brian Sozzi is visiting a dozen key retailers on Thanksgiving and Black Friday to assess their performance during one of the biggest shopping events of the year.

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Holiday shoppers crowded J.C. Penney (JCP) on Thanksgiving, buying more than just deeply discounted door-buster deals designed to drive store traffic.

At four J.C. Penney stores in the New York area, visited from 6:00 p.m. to midnight on Thanksgiving, shoppers were snapping up non-door-buster apparel and blitzing the ladies' shoe department.

"It just feels busier," said a J.C. Penney employee, comparing this year's Black Friday experience to last year's. The employee preferred to remain anonymous.

And this employee could be on to something. The company issued a statement about Black Friday sales, suggesting the department store retailer is doing better than expected this year.   

"We saw a strong surge of customers visit J.C. Penney beginning at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving," said CEO Mike Ullman in the statement, adding, "I'm encouraged by our results thus far."

J.C. Penney expects fourth-quarter same-store sales to increase by 2% to 4%, following a 2% gain last year. The statement did not update guidance. 

And unlike last year, J.C. Penney's home department was attracting shoppers, likely reflecting better-arranged sections and lower prices on private-label housewares. In the fourth quarter of 2013, J.C. Penney's CEO Mike Ullman said that gross margins in the home department were down "materially" as the company aggressively discounted slow-moving merchandise bought by former CEO Ron Johnson. J.C. Penney's home department accounts for about 11% of its annual sales.

J.C. Penney has 1,060 stores in operation, most of which are "cash-flow positive," said to CEO Mike Ullman on the third-quarter earnings call.

The first day of the holiday shopping season is a big day, but it's just one day. But all signs so far point to J.C. Penney having a strong fourth quarter.

J.C. Penney's Black Friday Scorecard

Number of stores visited: Four

Location: Long Island, N.Y.

Times visited: 6:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m., Thanksgiving Day

Bag size (Big bags means big items which mean more money for the retailer) Large and included items other than door-busters in apparel and home

Crowd size (How big are the crowds): Consistently large, with the home department and Sephora makeup sections as bright spots.

Staff size (Is there enough staff to handle the crowds): Checkout lines moved well, with appropriate number of staff on the sales floor offering assistance

Out of stock areas (Empty shelves): Women's boots, door-buster kitchen gadgets and Disney (DIS) Frozen dolls.

Too much stock (Overstocked on key items): Levi's denim, athletic wear, men's suits and dress shirts

Desperate promotions (Discounts too big compared to competitors): Nothing too irrational for the start of the holiday season.

Crowds line up to buy at a Long Island J.C. Penney.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.

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