As many families in Pierce County spent Thanksgiving in a post-turkey stupor watching football, James Johnson waited in front of Target store on South 23rd Street waiting to buy a 50-inch television at half-price.
He and his brother, Danny, arrived at 2 p.m. Thursday, seven hours before the store opened.
Johnson, a 40-year-old bartender at a Federal Way sports bar, figured he was saving $50 for each hour he sat waiting.
“Time is money,” he said.
Retailers couldn’t agree more. Target was among a growing number of them opening a day ahead of Black Friday, what had been the traditional start of the holiday shopping season. Walmart and Sears opened an hour ahead of Target at 8 p.m. Thursday.
Minutes before Sears opened, thongs of bargain hunters lined all three entrances into the store. Although lamenting that Thanksgiving shopping takes time away from family on the holiday, Michael Doss of Tacoma said he preferred it because the crowds are smaller and he doesn’t have to get up before dawn Friday to take advantage of the best deals.
“You’re wide awake so you know what you’re getting,” said Doss, 45. “You’re not sleepwalking.”
At precisely 8 p.m., employees opened the doors and were greeted with whoops by some shoppers. There was an orderly procession inside, with only a few shoppers lightly jogging.
A crunch of shoppers waited at the escalator to get to the electronics on the second floor.
There was no jostling.
Doss and the others at Sears were among 41 million people who planned to take advantage of these earlier shopping hours, according to a survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs.
“The main reason cited by one-third of consumers planning to shop on Thanksgiving Day was that it would be an earlier opportunity to find bargains,” said Michael Niemira, the council’s chief economist.
There were bargains locally, if shoppers were willing to wait for them. And that meant competing with the likes of Lakewood resident Spencer Grant, who made the Johnson brothers look like Johnny-come-latelies.
Grant, 28, arrived at the Tacoma Mall Sears at 5 a.m., 15 hours before the store opened, to buy a 32-inch television for $97, a $152 savings.
Grant, who works for a road-striping company, said it was worth it to give up most of his holiday to come home with a television he couldn’t otherwise afford.
“I’m tired of that old TV in my room,” he said. “I wanted a new one.”
Second in line was 36-year-old Lakewood resident Richard Castaneda, a manager at a local recycling company. He arrived at noon to be the first to buy a 50-inch television for $299.
Castaneda had arrived at 3:30 a.m. to stand in line at Best Buy, which opened at midnight, but was greeted by some customers who have literally camped out to score deep discounts.
His disappointment turned to relief when he discovered he could buy the same-sized television for $100 less at Sears, where he arrived at noon. He missed Thanksgiving dinner at his mother-in-law’s but planned to eat at his father’s and a friend’s before heading over to Walmart to do some more shopping.
Castaneda’s original plan was thwarted in part by arguably the most eager holiday shopper in Pierce County history.
Will Early, 23, of Eatonville, said he arrived at Best Buy on Sunday – yes, more than four days before the electronic retailer’s doors opened for Black Friday – so he could buy between 10 and 20 Blu-ray discs for as low as $3.99.
Early was among a group of about a dozen or so Best Buy Black Friday veterans who reunite each year. Their vigil of camaraderie and savings reached its peak Wednesday, when they erected a large tent near Best Buy’s front doors that can comfortably house a half-dozen people.
They then transformed it into a gamer’s paradise with two televisions equipped with Xbox 360s, heaters and Apple consumer gear powered by a generator running in the bed of a pickup parked nearby.
An observer could note living in a parking lot for nearly a week is overkill and, more directly, a tad crazy. One did.
Enjoying his video game in the company of friends in the warm tent, Early was just as direct in his response.
“You know you want to do this, but you didn’t think of it first,” he boasted in good humor.
Another group member, David Overbo, 44, of Puyallup, said the investment is worth it because it allows him and other shoppers to wow friends and families with gifts they couldn’t otherwise afford.
“You can blow people away with the Christmas gifts you can get on Black Friday,” he said.
Or, as more and more retailers are learning, the day before.Christian Hill: 253-274-7390 christian.hill@ thenewstribune.com @TNTchill