Putting the carts before remorse

BRANDON —

Shoppers showed you never can put out the Black Friday door-busters too early, crowding in for cheap Xbox games and $199 big-screen TVs as retailers opened their doors as early as 9 p.m. Thursday.

Next year, the really ambitious may be eating their Thanksgiving dinners at the stores.

The first real glimpse of sales figures for the top shopping day of the year may come Sunday in a survey from the National Retail Federation.

Meanwhile, veteran store managers said they were impressed with the early traffic at traditional Black Friday powerhouses such as best buy and JCPenney.

Their Brandon stores opened earlier than ever, with best buy cracking its doors at midnight and JCPenney going with a soft opening at 3 a.m.

Katie Schifferli of Sarasota showed up at the Brandon best buy at 11:30 p.m. Thursday for the midnight opening, woefully late. She saw a line stretching out the building, so she made a beeline for a breakfast spot instead.

“I think the lines for the 12 o’clock opening were much worse, because I think people are more willing to stay up,” Schifferli said.

Her husband is eyeing a new TV and they’ll get a laptop, as well.

Big sellers at best buy included a 42-inch Sharp LCD TV for $199, a $39.99 Toshiba Blu-ray disc player and a 55-inch Samsung LED TV for $999.99, store manager John Downey said.

At least 50 people crammed the Apple store at Westfield Brandon around 10 a.m. Friday, grabbing discounts in a store not known for sales.

The biggest price breaks were on big-ticket iMac and MacBook computers. the iMac starts at $1,098 and was offered at a $101 discount Friday.

The sale was a rare find for Mike and Kathy Hayes of Lithia, who found themselves “sucked into” Apple. They picked up a cover for their iPod for $30.

“We probably wouldn’t have gotten this if it hadn’t been on sale,” Mike Hayes said.

Retailers hope shoppers will spend more this year despite Florida’s continuing unemployment problems and growing fears about Europe’s debt crisis. the National Retail Federation expects holiday sales to rise 2.8 percent compared with last year.

That’s far behind last year’s 5.2 percent increase, but still a little better than average.

In Hillsborough County, sales tax collections have risen every month this year compared with last year, according to Florida Department of Revenue data. People seem more willing to spend this year.

Several shoppers said the crowds seemed lighter than usual by mid-morning Friday, maybe because so many midnight shoppers had gone home. That could make future Black Fridays less of a hassle for people who don’t like all the crowds.

In Wesley Chapel, the Shops at Wiregrass was fairly quiet Friday morning, with sparse crowds and uncluttered sidewalks — a major change from the mall’s first Christmas season in 2009.

Where were all the people?

“Walmart,” said Debra Virgilio, who came from Brooksville with her daughter and granddaughters to shop at Build-A-Bear Workshop and Victoria’s Secret.

Virgilio said she didn’t miss the crowds.

“It makes it easy to get around,” she said.

A few miles north, parking was tight at the Grove in Wesley Chapel, home to big-box stores including Toys R Us, best buy and Michaels.

Outside best buy, a trash can overflowed with empty water bottles and half-eaten food, testament to the campers who lined up well in advance to get Black Friday deals.

Inside, the aisles were full but the crowd was civilized.

Mall and superstore workers must get used to ever-earlier hours. JCPenney was going to open at 4 a.m. Friday, but wound up opening at 3 to accommodate a line of customers, store manager Connie Lant said.

Toys R Us set the early standard this year by opening at 9 p.m. Thursday, while Walmart debuted door-buster sales at 10 p.m.

National superstores get the most attention, but some small shops have begun getting into the Black Friday act too.

At tiny Read More Comics in Brandon, people lined up Friday for a 5 a.m. opening. the store knocked 50 percent off the price of comics and 35 percent off comic hero statues until 8 a.m.

Read More Comics started opening early on Black Friday three years ago and customers now mark it on their calendar.

Said store employee Shawn Scott, “We’re at about seven times what we do on a normal Friday.”

Putting the carts before remorse


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