Just after midnight, Nghia Doan stepped up to the blue tape stretched in a line across the sidewalk. He was more than four hours early, just the way the 23-year-old had planned it.
Hundreds would line up behind him as they waited for Best Buy on Naples Boulevard to open its doors to Black Friday sales.
“I wanted to be first,” Doan said.
Doors opened at 5 a.m., and while the day is known to kick off the Christmas shopping season, Black Friday also entices people like Doan to stock up on electronics for themselves.
“I want to buy a television, laptop, washing machine,” he said. “This is for my house.” It was the first time Doan had stood in line for door-buster deals and he’s not sure if he’ll be back next year.
“It’s crazy,” he said.
That’s what Mariana Birmingham thought of the line that stretched past Staples, past the recently out-of-business Golf Galaxy and into the Costco parking lot.
“I’m not a person who camps out,” she said. “It’s just crazy. There are good deals, but not that good.” Still, Birmingham started her deal hunting at midnight at Walmart, then on to Kohl’s.
Her wait was made a little easier when a Best Buy employee handed her a gift card.
With two computers, a Blu-ray player and a camera in his shopping cart at Best Buy, Francisco Gonzalez said he feels good to be able to buy gifts this year.
“Last year, we didn’t buy anything,” Gonzalez recalled. “We made dinner and stayed home.” The 32-year-old yard maintenance company owner said he could tell the economy is improving.
Last year, Gonzalez had two regular clients. This year he has 25.
“People feel better and spend,” he said. “This year, I can get a couple things.”
Collier County Sheriff’s deputies were on scene at Best Buy to keep an eye on the crowd that could get a little testy at times.
When employees began distributing vouchers for prized goods, such as laptops, some people cut in front of others who had been waiting for hours. When they protested, employees kicked the line-hoppers out of the queue.
It was just about 5 a.m. when doors opened and the first wave of shoppers flowed in. Some walked, some ran, the impatient weaving around the casual.
Shouts of “stop pushing, stop pushing” could be heard as people funneled in to the popular store. With sleep still in their eyes, they streamed past stacks of TV’s and game systems.
Some shoppers worked the buddy system. One claimed a bulky box containing a 42-inch flat-screen TV while the other went for the cart, making sure they got what they came for.
Many were on cell phones checking in with friends and family to see if there was anything else they needed.
While some were still running from aisle to aisle, others were already at the checkout just minutes after the doors opened. They waited for hours for one thing and were wasting no time moving on to their next store — or to bed — for the first time in 24 hours.
Across town, the Coastland Center mall looked like a buzzing Saturday afternoon by 8 a.m., the chatter, crinkling of bags and desperate yells from frustrated parents all seamlessly moving under a wafting cloud of baking pretzels.
“It’s been nice and quiet, no problems,” Naples police officer Mike Herman said. “The crowd has been building slowly as more stores start to open.”
Since most students are on Thanksgiving break now, there’s a younger look to the crowd. Sweatshirts with teen pop star Justin Bieber are a popular item, but not as much as the Xbox Kinect, which is $149 withouth the Xbox and $299 with the Xbox. GameStop offered some games with it.
“Mostly, the games are the ones that went down,” said Madeline Bowman, sales associate. “(The) only deal is on the PSP, where you can save 40 bucks.” GameStop also allows those wanting to upgrade their game system to either trade in their old one and put it towards a new system, or get store credit.
Aldo at Coastland Center was offering 30 percent off select styles. Store employee James Faircloth was tending to customers since they opened at 6 a.m.
“I’ve probably already met my sales goal for the day,” said Faircloth. While the mall was in full swing at the early hour, the change in his work schedule had Faircloth saying out of habit, “Have a good night.”
Throughout Coastland Center, men were lounging on chairs and couches, holding bags, while women were searching for deals.
Martin Krauss was one of those men. He was out shopping with his wife and daughter.
“It’s shop ‘til you drop,” he said, moving the bags off his body and onto the floor. “I just let them shop, as long as I can find a chair every once in a while.” Though the ladies were on a quest for the latest fashions, Krauss was hoping to get a deal on a netbook digital reader, like a Kindle.
With the recession technically in the past, a recovery has yet to be felt by some.
Even in stores stocked with discounts, Donna Scudder, a 40-year-old home health worker did not have a cart full of gadgets or a mile-long shopping list.
She and her 10-year-old son, Carter, were just out to browse and watch the excitement of the hustle and bustle.
“I almost don’t want to do presents at all this year,” Scudder said, while shopping at Best Buy in North Naples. “I want to just enjoy the family. Honestly, we have enough.” While that wouldn’t fly with her family, she said, she is spending less this year than she has in the past, before the economy went cold.
Scudder was fortunate enough to have kept her house and job, but she can’t shake the fear that her luck could change in the future.
“My clients are 90 years old and up and they say: ‘Save your money,’” Scudder recounted.
Black Friday shopping opened at the Target near Immokalee Road in North Naples to the longest line in store history, stretching across the shopping plaza outside the store beginning at about 2 a.m. for the earliest shoppers looking to find the best deals.
Niki Tonnessen, the store manager, said the hottest items were electronics: the 40-inch TV, a GPS and the iPod Touch.
Once the doors opened at 4 a.m., the lines outside quickly disappated but turned into seemingly longer checkout lines inside the store.
The earliest shoppers grabbed-up the best deals. Those TVs were cleaned out in less than 15 minutes.
Yuri Machim was in the front of the line before the store opened with friends waiting to score some of those 40-inch flat-screen TVs for under $300. Machim and company had been shopping or waiting in line at stores with the best Black Friday deals since 4 p.m. on Thursday, she said. They ate leftover turkey and Thanksgiving sides while in line.
After grabbing two gaming chairs and a couple of the flat-screens, Machim said her Black Friday journey was done. With glassy eyes, she stood in front of her shopping carts while waiting for friends to get through the busy check-out lines.
She said a quick nap would be her only respite between her Black Friday shopping trip and her job at Costco, which she would have to get to in a matter of hours.
“It’s a game,” said Eileen Johnson of New Smyrna Beach as she took a breather outside of the Gulf Coast Town Center’s Target store. Her daughter, Mindy Johnson, an FGCU student, was at Best Buy getting a deal.
The mother and daughter spent Wednesday into early Thursday morning eating turkey and planning their attack for Black Friday, which started when the clock struck midnight at Miromar Outlets.
Outside of Babies R Us, Catherine Lott of Fort Myers didn’t buy presents, but instead loaded up on baby food, diapers and baby wipes which were drastically marked down. She has two boys, ages 2 and 9 months. Grandma Rosemary Fronabarger was in town from Annapolis, Md., helping her load the back of her van.
“It’s better to be shopping here in warm weather,” Fronabarger said.
Bass Pro Shops was a popular place for men, women and children alike.
Joshua Johnson, 25, of Orlando, visiting his parents in Fort Myers, was experiencing his first Black Friday.
“They’re decent deals,” he said of the items he had purchased earlier. “I’m happy to get $200 off the normal price of 500 or 600 bucks. It’s good.” David Templeton and his daughter, Morgan, 9, were in Santa’s Wonderland at Bass Pro Shops. They had camped out in the parking lot as part of the store’s camping event. But, they were the only ones there.
Templeton didn’t mind too much, but Morgan said her dad was kind of boring. Her mother, Jennifer, was busy shopping elsewhere within Gulf Coast Town Center.
Morgan wants Santa to bring her an electric scooter, while Dad, who works for Lighthouse Landscape Lighting, hopes to get “a better economy.”
Tonnessen, North Naples Target manager, thinks the economy is improving. She said the store broke its hour-long sales record Friday, which is consistent with the steady rise in sales the store has seen in recent months.
Although shoppers go out on Black Friday for the sales, she said this year’s deals were not much different than previous years. Still, this year’s sales have improved.
“People are out shopping,” she said. She predicted this fourth quarter sales will be the 3-year-old store’s best.
Correspondent Valli Finney contributed to this report.