Business

Monday, Nov 19 2012 05:45 PM

Shoppers pitch tents early this season

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    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    Nehemiah and Christina Leon along with their daughter Joslyn hang out in front of the Best Buy on Rosedale Hwy. on Monday afternoon. The couple set up camp on Sunday to be first in line come Friday morning. There daughter goes home at night. This is the second year in a row that the couple has waited for the store Balck Friday savings.

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    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    Three tents line up in front of the Best Buy on Rosedale Highway on Monday afternoon. Tents started showing up Sunday to be first in line come Friday morning.

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BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

It's too late to become the first in line for Black Friday specials at the Best Buy on Rosedale Highway. Or the second in line, or the third or the fourth...

By Monday afternoon, the sidewalk in front of the store looked like an urban campground. Families were already dug in with tents, portable heaters and video projectors for late-night video gaming.

Best Buy shopper Bryan McGill almost did a double-take when he passed by the tent line. He has family members who in years past camped out to secure Black Friday deals reserved for firstcomers.

McGill said he had warned them it wasn't worth the trouble, and in the end he may have been right.

"They will never do it again," he said. "Just too crazy."

Nehemiah Leon disagrees. He and his family became the first ones in line at Best Buy at about 9:30 a.m. Sunday, and within a couple of hours another family had lined up behind them.

Leon said if he couldn't be first, he probably would have left, as it might have jeopardized his group's chance for $50 gift certificates and coupons for guaranteed deals.

But as it is, he and nine of his friends and relatives plan to save big by buying thousands of dollars worth of high-definition TVs, laptop computers and tablets, cellphones and other items -- almost all of them Christmas gifts -- going on sale midnight after Thanksgiving.

Last year the group spent about $2,500 filling two trucks full of merchandise. "This year it's going to probably be a little more than that," said Leon, who was able to spend days in line only because he was recently laid off from his oil field job.

This year's early arrival of retail camp-outs -- a full 24 hours before it happened last year at Best Buy, Leon said -- is another sign that Black Friday is coming so early this holiday season that it may need a new name.

Major retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target have announced plans to open on Thanksgiving Day this year. This continues a trend of opening ever earlier for the best bargains of the year and, in the process, angering some employees who would prefer to spend the day with family.

Notably, perhaps, neither the Wal-Mart next to the Rosedale Highway Best Buy nor the Target a short drive to the west had any campers on Monday.

Target store manager Randy Lemons said he couldn't recall any shoppers camping out last year, either, though with doorbuster deals on TVs, small appliances, bikes and clothes, he wasn't sure what to expect this year.

"We're absolutely anticipating a good turnout" Thursday, he said, adding that employees will be on hand to direct crowds and help ensure people who show up first enter the store first.

No one was in line camping Monday at Valley Plaza, marketing manager Kristi Jackson said. She explained that more than 45 mall tenants plan to open at midnight after Thanksgiving, though Sears plans to open four hours before that at 8 p.m. Thursday followed by Target at 9 p.m. Old Navy expects to open at 9 a.m. Thanksgiving Day and close at 8 p.m.

In front of the Best Buy, Rene Castaneda, his wife and their two small children pitched a tent Monday morning, becoming the fourth group in line for Black Friday. Although he's excited about buying a new TV and computer tablet, Castaneda said he's also looking forward to the excitement of the crowds and hanging out late at night with others in line to start shopping early.

"It's a chance to tell stories and sing songs during the night," he said.

Added his wife, Patty, "It actually does become fun."

Best Buy general manager Bret Nelson tries to make sure the experience is worth the wait by handing out gift certificates to the first few groups in line, and by taking measures to make sure early arrivals get fair access.

Although he said he wouldn't choose to camp out the way the Castanedas do, he sees the attraction.

"They make almost their own little family event out of it," he said. "It's a tradition to all these people."

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