It was a half hour before the doors opened Thursday and Deborah Browning had just arrived at Best Buy in Columbus. The line was easily wrapped past the humongous Kadie the Cow statue and deep around the back of the building.
The Ellerslie, Ga., resident and her daughter, Amber Browning, were fueled for what lie ahead of them, however. They had stuffed themselves with turkey, dressing, dumplings, sweet potato souffle and green beans. As mama Browning described it, “We had the whole works.”
And just because it was Thanksgiving Day, the mother and daughter were not going to break their tradition of kicking off the holidays with a gift-buying spree. At Best Buy, they were in line to buy a 16gb iPad 2 with wifi for $299.
“My daughter’s a school teacher and she wanted one of these to help out in the class, so this is her Christmas,” said Deborah Browning, who was patiently primed to shop as long as it took for about 17 of her immediate and extended family members.
“When we left the house my husband said, ‘See you in the morning.’ We’ll go as long as we can and, if we have to, we’ll go home to take a power nap and get up and go again,” she said.
Perhaps no surprise, the “doorbusters” offered by the major chain retailers were drawing deal-hungry customers in healthy numbers considering the traditional shopping blitz known as Black Friday was still hours away.
Lumari Martinez and her daughter, Julianna, actually arrived at Target on Bradley Park Drive around 3 a.m. Thursday.
“We thought they were opening at 8 a.m. instead,” Lumari Martinez, a new arrival in the Fort Mitchell, Ala., area, said about two hours before the discount retailer’s 8 p.m. opening. “We decided instead of going back home, though, we would wait it out.”
No doubt, they were first in line to purchase two of the Element 50-inch big-screen TVs for $229, one for each of them. They vowed to head straight home after buying the electronics to finally eat their holiday meal.
Second in line were Phenix City residents Shayne Knowles with Adam and Sarah Dotson. Knowles, too, wanted the low-price television, along with some toys for his nephew, which he likes to spoil. They ate turkey and dressing at noon before arriving around 2 p.m., and Target was not going to be their final stop.
“We’re going to go to Dick’s Sporting Goods. They’ve got good sale on a lot of Nike shoes and stuff like that, and then we’re heading to Gap and all over town,” said Knowles. “We’ve got a bunch more shopping today. This is just the beginning.”
Earlier, at Toys R Us, the lines were growing as the Columbus Park Crossing store prepared for its 5 p.m. opening. As the doors parted, there were an estimated 300-plus customers in line, with the retailer letting only 50 in at time to control the crowd. Those shoppers approaching late from the parking lot simply craned their necks left and right, sizing up the line, with most deciding to hop in line and wait for entrance to the toy store.
“I just came to laugh at everybody and see what they’re buying,” joked Trish Fisher toward the back of the line in front of the Marshall’s discount store. After a stop at Toys R Us, she was heading to the nearby Walmart to possibly buy movie DVDs.
The Columbus resident also had a vested interest in people shopping as much as they can this holiday. She ate Thanksgiving dinner with her husband, Darren, on Wednesday because he was scheduled to work at credit-card processor TSYS in downtown Columbus on Thursday night. This, naturally, is the Columbus-based firm’s busiest processing season.
“He’s just watching to make sure everything is working properly with TSYS being a credit card company,” said Fisher, who expected to swipe her own plastic a few times Thursday. “I’m keeping him in business.”
Elsewhere around the city, things were mostly quiet, just as previous Thanksgivings have been before the retail world’s move toward opening earlier and earlier before Black Friday.
Compared to Best Buy, Peachtree Mall was relatively quiet with only department store anchors JCPenney and Macy’s opening at 8 p.m. It was somewhat of a calm before the storm, however, with about 40 retailers preparing to open at midnight. The rest will open 6 a.m. Friday.
Mall traffic will not be impeded, however, by recent reconstruction of a main entrance to the shopping center from University Avenue, with Peachtree general manager Chris McCoy saying that two-month project had been completed last Friday.
At Columbus Park Crossing, meanwhile, the Carmike 15 movie complex was doing brisk business during the holiday. A couple of restaurants, including Buffalo Wild Wings, were open for business and drawing good crowds.
For most of those out and about, however, an early Thanksgiving shopping spree was simply part of their holiday plans for enjoying time with families. That included Katy Schaefer and Sharon Raney, another mother and daughter who were spotted exiting the Michaels arts and crafts store in the Bradley Park area with two shopping carts loaded primarily with holiday decorations. They were aptly dressed in Santa hats with stylish leopard trim.
“We’re embarrassed that we’re out shopping on Thanksgiving,” joked mom Schaefer, a Pine Mountain, Ga., resident who relocated here recently to be near her family.
The two had eaten a Thanksgiving lunch before Raney’s sons laid down for naps, letting them sneak away for some shopping. After Michaels, they were bound for Walmart and expected to head out Friday morning as well.
“Mom just moved here from Arkansas and this used to be our tradition — it was a mother-daughter thing,” said Raney. “We’ve been apart for a long time, and now we’re back in the saddle again.”
Added Schaefer with a big smile: “Tomorrow we go to watch ‘Polar Express’ out at Fort Benning.”
The holiday movie is being shown at the IMAX theater at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center just outside the military installation.