Black Friday Shoppers wait all night for bargains

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Jesse Chiem is getting an early Christmas present this year: a laptop computer.

The Vancouver high school senior is likely to appreciate the gift even more, knowing that his mom, Chu Chiem, waited all night in the rain to buy it for him on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year.

The laptop was one of a limited supply at Vancouver’s Best Buy store in the Columbia Crossing complex off Southeast 164th Avenue and Mill Plain Boulevard. For the Chiems, the wait started at 8 p.m. Thursday. When the store opened at 5 a.m., the mother-and-son shopping team stood in front, with more than 250 people lined up behind them.

“My son needs a laptop for college next year,” Chu Chiem said.

The laptops, which were selling for $179, were Best Buy’s most sought-after Black Friday item, said Jim Best, store manager.

“The lion’s share of people outside were waiting for laptops,” Best said.

Industry analysts were dubbing Black Friday this year’s make-or-break day for retailers across the nation, many of whom were offering discounts on everything from toys to TVs.

All hoped to entice budget-conscious consumers to open their wallets amid high unemployment and tight credit markets. Early reports pointed to some renewed spending vigor, according to the Associated Press.

Some even say the search for popular electronics, such as laptop computers, DVD players and iPod music players could prove difficult this year. The rocky economy caused many retailers to stock less merchandise to avoid a repeat of last year’s excess inventory.

The potential for merchandise shortages appeared to bring more Black Friday shoppers into Best Buy this year, Best said.

Before the store opened, Best Buy associates handed out first-come-first-serve tickets for the computers. Most were already spoken for by the time the store opened.

“If we didn’t do that, it would be chaos,” Best said.

By 5:30 a.m., Tina Forank had already had a chaotic day. It started with an earlier wait outside of a Vancouver Walmart store.

“They had this laptop for $198 and when I got there at 4 a.m., the lady said there were more people in line than there were laptops,” said Forank, 24, of Vancouver.

She hoped to prevail in her search for a bargain-priced laptop at Best Buy. Forank’s shopping companion, Sarah Patrick, was ahead of her in the checkout line.

“She (Patrick) has a ticket to get the computer for me,” Forank said. “I am getting the HP notebook for $179, hopefully.”

Black market?

Black Friday shopper Vasily Tolokovoy said he was annoyed by Best Buy’s store policy, which limited all shoppers to the purchase of just one laptop per customer.

He learned of the policy after he and five friends had waited outside the Best Buy for more than 30 hours, starting at 8 p.m. Wednesday night. Tolokovoy and his friends had originally planned to buy at least three laptops apiece and then resell some of the units for a profit.

“Now, I’m just keeping it,” said Tolokovoy, 26, of Vancouver, as he left the store with a boxed-up HP laptop. After sales tax, he paid $213 for the computer.

Tolokovoy does not plan to camp out in front of any stores before Black Friday next year.

“I’m not going to do it again, that’s for sure. It’s not worth it,” he said.

But Black Friday shopper Dan Green said it was more than worth his time to stay overnight outside the Best Buy.

“I brought a sleeping bag and a mat, said Green, who also bought a laptop.

Friday’s discount prices also were crucial to husband-and-wife shoppers Denae and Chris Maltolm, on a tighter budget for buying gifts for their three children this year.

“We’re not buying a whole lot. It’s just whatever is on sale,” said Denae Maltolm. Chris has not worked since February at his job as a foreman in the carpenters union.

“There’s just not a lot of work,” said Denae Maltolm, an emergency room clerk at Southwest Washington Medical Center.

The Maltolm’s Black Friday shopping spree started at midnight at the Jantzen Beach Toys R Us store, where police were called in to break up a fight between shoppers in the wee hours of the morning.

“There was a big mob over there and they were punching each other,” Denae Maltolm said.

Fierce competition

Retail stores will compete against each other more fiercely this year, said Brad Lebowski, manager of the east Vancouver Kohl’s store.

With shoppers expected to spend less money on this year’s holiday, Lebowski said it is up to each retailer to grab market share by creating loyal customers.

“I think it gets more competitive every year. I don’t think it stops because of the economy,” Lebowski said.

But early-bird Kohl’s shoppers were also noticing merchandise shortages, said Susanne Hayman of Vancouver.

Hayman sensed the stores were running out of sale items more quickly this year than in the past.

“I got to Target at 4:30 this morning and they were out of what I wanted. I came here and they were out of what I wanted,” said Hayman, who was searching for an iPod docking station advertised at both stores.

Nevertheless, Hayman said she was making the best of her shopping trip, as she stood in a long line at Kohl’s waiting to buy half-price games for her grandchildren and on-sale bedding for her daughter.

“There are some really good buys, but they seem to be out of things lickety-split,” she said.

Cami Joner: 360-735-4532; cami.joner@columbian.com.