SLO County shoppers hit the stores early on Black Friday

Kellie Adams explains to shoppers which "doorbuster" deals are still in stock at Best Buy in San Luis Obispo on Black Friday.
Kellie Adams explains to shoppers which "doorbuster" deals are still in stock at Best Buy in San Luis Obispo on Black Friday. jmellom@thetribunenews.com

First-time Black Friday shopper Michaela Tanner of San Luis Obispo arrived at the Paso Robles Target store just five minutes after the store’s opening at 4 a.m. but was disappointed to find that the 40-inch television sets selling for $298 were already gone. She met a woman there who said she had been knocked down en route to the TVs.

“It was nuts. I ran around the store yelling, ‘Pandemonium!’ ” Tanner said.

Gary Johnson of Los Osos had gone online ahead of time with his granddaughter to pick out specific items and even map out their locations in the stores.

Arriving at the Arroyo Grande Walmart at 5 a.m. to buy a $198, 32-inch television set, they were dismayed to discover the store had opened at midnight, and those deals were already taken.

“You couldn’t beat that price,” said Johnson, disappointed. He has shopped Black Friday for four years now and was one of several who mentioned that despite the initial rush for so-called doorbusters — the limited, deepest discounts offered in only the opening hour — the stores seemed less crowded this year.

“With the way the economy is, there are not as many people out,” he said. “Those out are looking for specific things. The carts aren’t as full.”

According to the National Retail Federation, retailers increasingly reached out ahead of time through e-mail and Facebook pages to advertise deals this year. Preliminary surveys indicated that 138 million people were planning to shop on Black Friday this year, up 4 million from the year before.

Whether most shoppers chased just one deal such as a flat-screen TV or stayed out for several leisurely hours filling their carts remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: Good deals came to those who waited the longest.

Berenice Moran and Marlon Maldonado pointed out the spot in front of Best Buy where they erected their tent the evening before, awaiting the 5 a.m. store opening in the near-freezing cold.

Because Best Buy gave out special tickets guaranteeing items to the earliest in line, the two Cuesta College students living on a budget were able to get the deals they wanted: a $150 laptop and a $400 TV.

Camping out to guarantee nabbing the discounts was “the only way we can actually shop for stuff,” Maldonado said.

Shopping in downtown San Luis Obispo took on a different tone, with only a handful of stores opening early, offering different types of deals.

Sports Authority Manager Daniel Costales said more than 85 people were waiting outside when the store opened its doors at 5 a.m. Scratch-off coupons were given to the first 85 people, and a 12-foot trampoline for $149.99 was one of the hottest items.

Other downtown stores advertised deals for those shopping before noon, such as 40 percent off at Express and Banana Republic, and a $50 store credit for Abercrombie & Fitch shoppers who spent more than $100.

Surveying shoppers as a whole, just a few enthusiasts seemed to have gone all out: Rita Holladay and Silvia Ramirez of Atascadero loaded two laptops, two Blu-ray DVD players, two TV sets, an Xbox Connect, movies and video games, all with insurance and totaling more than $3,000, into an SUV in front of the San Luis Obispo Best Buy store.

The two women, who were shopping for their respective families, estimated they saved more than $1,000. But how did they pay for it?

Holladay responded with glee: “Credit card 36 months interest-free!”

At Best Buy, manager Kellie Adams said that doorbusters were stocked in higher volume than previous years, and some highly discounted items including Wii game players and Nook electronic book readers were still available at 8 a.m.

Dan Erpenbach of Arroyo Grande benefited from the change.

“Honestly, I overslept. I left the house around 6 a.m. and figured I’d missed it.”

Still, he got everything he wanted that morning.

Tanner, who bought two bags of gifts at San Luis Obispo’s Kohl’s department store after her 4:05 a.m. disappointment from missing a TV, said she would shop Black Friday again — but not rise so early.

“If you don’t get just what you want, the deals will be just as good at 8 a.m,” she said. “And I’m gonna try Cyber Monday. That’s more my speed.”