Around 7 on a cold Thanksgiving night, about 15 brave souls stood in line just outside the Best Buy entrance near the Columbia Mall. Most people were seated in camping chairs. Someone set up a large tent, and one group was firing up a grill.
It was about 34 degrees at the time, and forecasts showed that it would stay at least that cold until the store opened at 5 a.m. for Black Friday.
Camping out the evening before holiday shopping begins in earnest is a small but enduring tradition. In Columbia on Thursday night, shoppers who wanted to snap up the early bargains were spending the night in tents at the entrances of Best Buy and Bass Pro Shops.
The sidewalks in front of Best Buy outlets nationwide are popular because the store markets deeply discounted electronics that are available for a limited time.
Alan Gatica and two friends were near the front of the line. They arrived around 3 p.m. Gatica said he has camped out with friends in front of Best Buy for the past two years.
He's looking to buy a laptop or a TV.
“The laptop is the big-ticket item,” he said.
The three campers had blankets to keep themselves warm and did not plan to sleep. Last year, they brought a tent and a propane heater.
Farther down the line were Taylor Castillo and Sherry Brown, who had also been here since 3 p.m. They brought a tent, and Brown was boiling water with a portable stove. They too were aiming for the laptops – which they said would drop to $197.
A few miles away, more than 20 people had gathered outside of Bass Pro Shops, mostly enjoying free hot chocolate and s’mores while waiting for raffle results.
The prizes included gift cards every half hour and, at 8 p.m., a grand prize of a camping kit that included a tent, a raft, a grill and a cooler.
“There were about 200 people waiting outside this morning for our Thanksgiving Day sale,” said employee Sarah Hodgen.
However, by 6:30 p.m. only one group in front of the store was planning to stay the night. Steve Johnson, his two sons and their friends arrived at 5:30 p.m. and brought an 8- to 12-person tent. Johnson said he had camped outside the night before Black Friday in the past, but it would be a first for the children.
Johnson wasn’t sure what he wanted to buy when the store opened at 6 a.m. Friday, but his son said he wanted a slingshot, and another boy wanted a trail camera.
They planned to eat peanuts, chips and deer jerky, while avoiding hot food.
“Hot food in the cold makes your stomach sick,” Johnson said.
They brought sleeping bags to keep warm, an iPod and a laptop to stay entertained.
It might seem crazy, but the campers think it’s worth the effort.
“You always get what you want,” Gatica said.