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On Black Friday, early birds get the bargains

November 27, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

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HAGERSTOWN - At 4:30 a.m. Friday, when most of Hagerstown was quiet and dark, a river of headlights flowed down Garland Groh Boulevard as coffee-fueled Black Friday shoppers rushed to be among the first to enter stores.

Yet those early risers were latecomers compared to Riggs Leach, 57, of York, Pa., who had been camped out in front of the Hager's Crossing Best Buy with relatives since 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving day to ensure he'd get a sale-priced laptop.

Huddled in a hooded coat behind the caution tape moments before the store opened, Leach could only shrug when asked if the wait had been worthwhile.

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Behind him, a group of 20-somethings who joined the line between 3 and 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving was more energetic. To stay warm and entertained, the group had been playing football, said Justin Mason, 26, of Hagerstown.

"We only lost one good football," Mason said, gesturing at the roof of a neighboring store. "Tell Five Below we want our ball back."

Mason, who recently started taking classes at Hagerstown Community College after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, said he was at Best Buy to get an Intel Core 2 Duo laptop before they sold out. The laptops were on sale Friday for about $200 less than the usual price, he said.

Mason and his friends said they'd had a good time bonding with strangers they met in line as the night went on.

"We had some trying moments," he said, grinning. "Some almost cutters. Things got heated for a minute, but we handled it OK."

Hagerstown Police Officer Patty Shantz, who was stationed outside Best Buy on Friday morning at the store's request, said the crowd waiting to enter had been cheerful and well-behaved.

"They're happy and smiling," she said.

Emergency medical services responded to several fainting and seizure incidents at various shopping centers throughout the morning, a dispatcher said, but Hagerstown Police and the Washington County Sheriff's Department reported no crowd-related problems.

By the time Best Buy opened at 5 a.m., the line was about 500 people long and reached all the way to Chipotle, at the end of the row of stores.

As the Best Buy's sliding doors finally parted, those in line cheered, and gasps of "oh my God, it's warm!" could be heard as shoppers shuffled through the heated foyer.

Employees let in about 100 people at a time, pausing for a few minutes in between each group to wait for the newly admitted batch to disperse throughout the store.

Best Buy general manager Armando Alvarez said the store had upped its staff for Black Friday and had held dry runs to help employees prepare for the onslaught of customers and their questions.

Laptops, televisions and gaming systems were the hot items this year, but Alvarez said that for many shoppers, the desire to spend Thanskgiving night waiting in line has as much to do with the experience as getting a good deal.

"I think it's part of the tradition now," he said. "People eat turkey, they watch football and they wait in line at Best Buy."

Alvarez said he had seen some people in line he recognized from previous Black Fridays.

Those who didn't join the Best Buy line until closer to opening said there were still plenty of bargains left when they got in, depending on the item.

Melody Lorshbaugh, 49, of Hagerstown, was able to get a 19-inch Dynex television despite arriving at 4:45, and she said there were about 15 or 20 left when she got in.

Lorshbaugh said the TV was a gift for herself, paid for by one of her in-laws.

"She said 'If you get up and stand in line, I'll give it to you for Christmas,'" Lorshbaugh said.

Lines also formed outside other Centre at Hagerstown and Hager's Crossing stores, such as Home Depot, Dick's Sporting Goods, and even the A C Moore craft store and Five Below bargain store.

Friends Whitley Woodring and Heather Metcalfe, both 19, of Mercersburg, Pa., were at the front of the line at Five Below, which they explained was offering Wii and Nintendo Dual Screen games for $5 as a Black Friday special.

The friends said they had been shopping all night, starting at Toys "R" Us, which opened at midnight. They said they arrived there at 11 p.m., but didn't get in until 12:30 a.m.

After that, they stopped at Wal-Mart, which was open all night but had special sales starting at 5 a.m. Even after the full night of shopping, Woodring and Metcalfe said they hadn't quite checked everyone off their gift-buying lists.

"We're getting there," Woodring said.

At the Hagerstown Wal-Mart, lines began forming by around 11:40 p.m. Thursday at in-store displays of sale merchandise that wouldn't be available until 5 a.m. Friday, according to cashier Stephanie Dahlweiner.

By 12:45 a.m. Friday the grocery aisles were nearly deserted, but a steady stream of bargain hunters crowded covered pallets of electronics, toys, DVDs and other items guarded by store employees and Hagerstown Police officers.

"It's never been this chaotic," Dahlweiner said.

After the 5 a.m. sales started, Wal-Mart shoppers said the store was packed.

"Chaos -- sheer chaos," Mariah Scott, 39, of Hagerstown said as she left Wal-Mart. "It's like driving on the beltway, just bumper to bumper and you can't move."

Scott said she braved the crowds to buy a Blu-Ray player that was on sale Friday at Wal-Mart.

"I've been waiting for about a year for it to go under $100," she said.

Another Wal-Mart shopper, Shelby Hughes, 31, said the Wal-Mart sale allowed her to buy toys for her children that she wouldn't have been able to afford if they weren't on sale. She said she spent about $70, but her purchases would have been close to $200 if they hadn't been on sale.

Hughes said that as packed as Wal-Mart was, the Black Friday experience there was smoother than in previous years.

"There were security guards throughout the whole store directing traffic," she said.

- Staff Writer Dave Rhodes contributed to this story.

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