LONG BEACH — Inaugural "Gray Thursday" sales in Long Beach appeared to be a financial success Thanksgiving morning, with shoppers lined up and ready to spend as early as Wednesday night at various local stores. | PHOTOS
Whether the push to shop on a holiday typically devoted to family time, football games and giving thanks is a hit on a social level, however, remained to be seen.
Some shoppers said they weren't at all bothered to sacrifice the holiday for slashed prices.
"Thanksgiving is every Sunday if you have a family that loves you," declared Harold Beltranni from Norwalk, who has spent the last four Thanksgivings at the Bellflower Kmart, but who opted for the Long Beach location at Bellflower Boulevard and Spring Street Thursday.
Signs of discontent, however, were evident among many of the 200 or so shoppers who joined him at the East Long Beach business, especially after they learned shortly before the 6 a.m. opening that the "Door Buster Deals" were limited in supply. Consumers, many of whom began their vigil the night before, issued a collective groan when Kmart employees announced vouchers would be given for a small number of big ticket electronics, and that each shopper could only purchase one "Door Buster" item per person.
The 32-inch TVs offered at less than $100 went first, with only 10 available at the advertised price. Similarly limited quantities of DVD players and computer tablets quickly followed suit.
"I was 14th in line and they were already out of the 32-inch TVs by the time they got to me," said Dave Wilson of Buena Park.
"That was fine with me, because I wanted the 50-inch (sold for less than $300), but they should have told all these people earlier," Wilson added gesturing at the long line that stretched down the length of the big box store. "If you know you only have 10 TVs then you let customers know before they spend all night outside."
When Shakira Woods of Long Beach realized the TVs she wanted were gone before the store's doors even opened, she took a voucher for an $89 tablet, which was being sold for $39 Thursday morning. Woods then offered the ticket to others in the line for the best price, launching a brief bidding war.
"One lady said 'I got $15;' then this man said, 'I got $20' and they started going back and forth," Woods said.
The woman eventually won, paying Woods $40 for the voucher. That translated to a savings of $9 for the winning bidder, who did not want to give her name but who insisted it was worth it.
A few people briefly worried that things might grow violent when another shopper tried to cut the line. But hot tempers were quickly cooled by a Long Beach Police Department patrol officer tasked with keeping an eye on the crowd.
"There was some arguing, so I just explained that fighting in public is illegal and I'll arrest both of them if I have to," said Officer Mike Masai. "They calmed down."
The brief squabble launched an amusing and somewhat disturbing recollection of previous holiday sales that ended in injury, including last year's pepper-spraying at a Walmart when aggressive crowds began to push and shove for video games placed on sale.
Frayed nerves, limited supplies and missing out on the traditional holiday meal weren't the only complaints logged by shoppers.
"I love my Walmart but with everything going on this year, people being under-paid and getting no benefits, I'm not going to go," vowed Annette Johnson of Beaumont, CA, who decided to get some early morning shopping done at Kmart before joining her family in Long Beach for Thanksgiving.
Still, just as many shoppers said they did not mind spending their holidays in line and they planned to hit as many stores as they could on Thursday and Friday, explaining their strategy with the precision of a military logistician.
"They give you maps, so you know exactly where to line up in the store for the item you want," explained Theresa Bender of San Pedro. "That way you don't have too many people crowding one area, and you don't waste your time."
Bender proudly declared she is a "Black Friday" shopping veteran of many years and it showed as she arrived before dawn at the downtown Long Beach Walmart equipped with camp chairs and other supplies. She happily shared her stuff and her shopping tips with a small collection of people waiting on line Thursday, including first-time "Black Friday" shopper Aaron Pineda who came with his wife on the Metro Blue Line from Watts. In exchange for the kind gesture, Bender and Pineda explained, they had all formed a bond and were helping one another out by holding places in line for bathroom breaks and food runs.
"We've got six kids, so the wait is worth it," Pineda explained. "We've tried to save enough for the flat screen before, but we could never get enough together. With the sale we can afford it."
With so many sales staggered throughout the day, Bender said, she planned to purchase items at Walmart at 8 p.m. Thursday, then get back in line and spend the night so that she can snap up more deals when the second sale starts at 5 a.m. Friday. That means Bender and several of her relatives will take the line shifts, leaving a small window at 2 p.m. Thursday when everyone will dash home for a shared meal. And that's where the goodwill earned by her sharing will really come into play.
"It's nice, it's fun, the atmosphere is good," Bender said. "It's not like I need anything, I wasn't even going to do it this year, but then I saw all the sale ads and I couldn't resist. It's like an addiction."