As the clock ticked toward the Thanksgiving openings of several big-box stores in Columbus Thursday night, lines began growing steadily in front them.
Shoppers had visions of large-screen televisions, Xbox games and even diaper wipes dancing in their heads.
Some even pondered why retailers made the decision this year to push store openings into a day normally reserved for eating a bit too much, taking a snooze and simply enjoying time with family.
“I joked about it. They can’t call it Black Friday anymore. It’s Black Thursday. They’re trying to get a jump on everybody else,” said Phenix City resident Dawn Hoover, who was waiting first in line outside Target on Bradley Park Drive with her son, Tyler, and his girlfriend, Courtney Thompson. The store opened at 9 p.m. They arrived more than six hours before that.
“I was very torn. We’re going to have Thanksgiving tomorrow. I liked midnight last year. The year before that it was like 4 or 5 (a.m. openings), I think,” said Hoover, 47, who was looking to purchase a 32-inch Apex LCD television for $147, a savings of $100. Her son, 18, an Auburn, Ala., resident, was planning to plunk down $199.99 for an Xbox 360 Kinect bundle, which normally costs $100 more.
“We’re probably going to go look at the leftovers at Best Buy after this,” said Tyler Hoover of the family’s annual shopping spree, which this year will go into the wee hours of Friday morning, including a stop at Walmart around 5 a.m. for another doorbuster.
Two hours before their 8 p.m. openings, Sears and Toys R Us both had lines stretching several dozen people deep.
At the front of the Sears line were Columbus resident Ford Mitchell and Auburn student and Highpoint, N.C., native Taylor Rawlinson. They had their sights set primarily on a 50-inch Toshiba LED television with a too-good-to-pass-up price of $299.99. Suggested retail? $899.99. There were only four of those TVs to go around, they were told.
“It’s definitely worth it. I did the same thing last year,” said Mitchell, 54, who pulled up to the store at 3 p.m. Wednesday to stake his prime spot in the queue. He also looked to grab a 32-inch TV for $97.
“Exactly what I was looking for is what they’ve got right here. Nobody else had it,” he said. “This is for me. It’s a gift to me.”
Rawlinson, who traveled about 45 minutes to Columbus because the Sears store in Opelika, Ala., closed this year, said he plans to give the big-screen television to his mother. He arrived at the store 7 p.m. Wednesday. “It’s probably the best Black Friday deal on a TV out of all of them,” he said.
Just a few doors down from Sears sat Columbus resident Donovan Folds, who was second in line, having gotten there around noon.
“The only thing about it is you miss a lot going on with Thanksgiving,” said Folds, who was expecting to purchase coloring books, electronics and toys for his five children. Plus, “There are baby wipes that I need for the new baby that’s coming.” The cost of those: $5 a box, 50 percent off the normal cost of $10 a package.
Folds, 30, said he had been saving for the holidays and planned to spend more than $2,000 this year. In year’s past he has waited in doorbuster lines at both Walmart and Target.
“Last year was real good. Everybody was talking and nobody was getting real rude,” said Folks, who also found the company around him Thursday night very neighborly.
Then there’s Alice Valle, the Columbus resident who began her sojourn in front of Best Buy Monday, camping out in front of the electronics store to purchase a Toshiba 40-inch LCD television for $179.99, a discount of $240 from its regular price. She also planned to pick up a few other items.
With Best Buy still more than four hours from its midnight opening, there was no way she was giving up after enduring some cold nights and very warm days. But was it worth it?
“Hindsight, 20-20, I’ll never be out this many days again. But I will camp out and do Black Friday,” said Valle, 50, who also found some friendly company alongside her at the front of the line. Everyone was using “line etiquette,” she said, while Best Buy was being very organized by giving everyone tickets to purchase items.
“There’s not pushing and shoving. You go through and get your items. They open up at 12. I’ll be in my car and leaving by 12:30,” said Valle, glancing down the line of shoppers who had been trickling in since Tuesday and were already snaking around the corner of the building on Manchester Expressway.
Next door at Peachtree Mall, the darkened shopping center was punctuated by lighted Christmas wreaths above the entrances. Mall manager Chris McCoy said about 20 of the center’s 90 stores were to open at midnight.
But the Walmart Supercenters in Columbus and Phenix, which did not close for Thanksgiving, were magnets for shoppers looking to take advantage of 8 p.m. deals and more at 10 p.m., an offer that guarantees anyone standing in line by 11 p.m. a discount for three items — a 32-inch Emerson LCD TV for $148, an iPad 2 package and $75 gift card for $399, and a Blu-ray player for $38. Just before the 8 p.m. deals were to take effect, cars were flowing into the supercenters at Columbus Park Crossing and on U.S. Highway 280 in Phenix City.
The stores opening on Thanksgiving are just the tip of a highly hyped gift-buying marathon that runs through Black Friday. That leaves only 31 holiday shopping days after that.