Getting a few hundred dollars off of a big-screen TV, tablet computer or video game console is worth three or four days camped in a parking lot, according to three shoppers doing just that this week.
“We have the free time, we’re not doing anything at home,” Fernando Velasco, 18, said.
Velasco and his little brother, Adrian, 12, have shared a tent outside Best Buy since Monday morning. They’re both on break from school. The brothers said they plan to buy a 60-inch television, Android tablet computer and a Wii U console.
Walkways outside of some big-box retailers are becoming perennial camping grounds for shoppers looking for “doorbuster” deals, when stores offer short-term sales that slash the prices of popular items.
First in line outside Merced’s Best Buy is Seth Soriano, a 12-year-old who has been camping out since Sunday night. Seth said he’s seeking an Xbox One.
For four years now, Seth said, he’s been first in line for Best Buy sales. His tent was filled with some of his bounty from past Black Friday shopping – an Xbox 360, several video games and even his air mattress.
All three young men staying in front of Best Buy know each other, and their parents take turns bringing them food and supplies, and fast-food eateries are a few steps away.
Best Buy, like many other big-box retailers, has moved the traditional Black Friday shopping event up to Thursday. It opens at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
Store Manager Derek Muller said the retailer has never opened before midnight. He said the doorbuster offerings and evening opening time could translate into a boom in sales. “We’re expecting to drive a huge amount of traffic,” he said.
The company has three separate doorbuster sales planned as the store stays open through the night and into the next day.
Best Buy will not be alone when it opens its doors on Thanksgiving Day.
Walmart, traditionally open on Thanksgiving Day, will start with a round of sales at 6 p.m., followed by another set at 8 p.m.
Other stores, including Merced Mall anchors J.C. Penney, Sears and Kohl’s, will open their doors at 8 p.m.
Matt Victor, the Kohl’s store manager, said his store, which deals primarily in clothing and home goods, will try to attract shoppers with items it doesn’t carry throughout the year, such as Nintendo DS handhelds, Beats by Dre headphones and LED televisions.
“I expect it to be very busy,” Victor said.
By the time the doors open, he said, a sizable line will likely develop. The store will also offer some doorbusters on clothing and Kohl’s Cash.
J.C. Penney offers a number of special sales on apparel during the holiday. Aracele Martinez, the store manager, said the store’s collectable snowglobes are always popular.
“I expect it to be better than last year, because we do have a lot more (items on) sale this year,” she said.
Nationwide, protests and petitions have been launched, targeting retailers that open on Thanksgiving Day. But stores are just the latest businesses to enter the fray – holidays are often big business at movie theaters and restaurants. Other careers also require people to work on holidays. These include members of the military, law enforcement, health care employees and journalists.
Retail representatives counter protests with the argument that they need to stay competitive, particularly in a holiday shopping season that is one weekend shorter than normal this year.
Small-business owners are also looking to pump up sales during the holiday shopping season.
Kelly Barkman, whose store Kelli sits in Merced’s downtown, said she won’t be open Thanksgiving Day. However, she plans sales today and on the day after Thanksgiving at her women’s and children’s clothing shop.
Barkman said she is optimistic that holiday shoppers will increase her business this year.
“I think it’s going to be better, and I don’t have a reason to think otherwise,” she said.
The shop will offer a number of sales during what is likely her busiest day of the year, Barkman said.
Also downtown is Helen & Louise, which primarily sells women’s clothing. Employee Gina Deliman said the shop will be closed on Thanksgiving but plans a number of sales on Black Friday. Some of the more popular offerings, she said, are the slashed prices on designer jeans and the store’s clearance rack.
Deliman said she foresees a good holiday shopping season this year, and on the store’s busiest day of the year – Black Friday.
“Already, I’ve a seen a difference in how people are spending,” she said. “People are being a little more free with their money right now.”