COLUMBIA — "It’s crazy."
That’s how Trey Chisholm and his friends described Black Friday while standing in line outside Best Buy around 11 p.m. Thursday.
The line outside Best Buy stretched hundreds of feet into the parking lot of the electronics store on Worley Street. On the other side of Stadium Boulevard, the line of customers eager to enter Old Navy extended to Alumni Hall, which was closed for Thanksgiving Day.
Hundreds of people waited in the chilly wind, chatting, cracking jokes and reading fliers. Some brought chairs. Some covered themselves with thick blankets. Cars moved busily, looking for parking spots.
"I was surprised at how many people showed up. This is by far the biggest I've ever seen," said Amanda Wyne, who was waiting in front of Best Buy with her husband, Matthew Wyne.
Ben Cox, operations manager at Best Buy, said he expected 1,500 shoppers to show up at his store on Thursday night alone.
"There's a bigger line this year, and we are expecting bigger profits," he said.
This year’s Black Friday saw earlier opening hours at many major stores. Macy’s and Target both pushed back their opening times from 4 a.m. Friday last year to midnight . Walmart kicked off its Black Friday sale at 10 p.m. Thursday, seven hours earlier than last year.
Cox said the earlier opening time is Best Buy's strategy to sell more merchandise.
"Opening earlier allows customers to get the products here instead of somewhere else. It gives us a competitive advantage over other shops."
Amy Patino, who arrived at Old Navy at 7 p.m. and was first in line, said Black Friday is generally a good thing, but she doesn't like having to get in line so early.
Mike Henry, who was first in line for Macy’s and wanted to buy a leather jacket and a Sonicare toothbrush, said the earlier opening hours were a good thing. He had to report to work on Friday.
"It's good to do shopping early, so I have a jacket to wear when I go to work tomorrow," he said.
Electronics were on top of many people’s wish list. Best Buy had a longer queue than any other shop before it opened at midnight.
Sirui Zhou, an MU student from China, was the first in line. Wearing a furry trapper hat, he came at 2:50 a.m. Wednesday to grab one of a limited number of Sharp 42-inch Class LCD HDTV for $199. Cox said the TV would be Best Buy’s hottest item.
Matthew and Amanda Wyne came at 10 p.m. for a 24-inch Dynex television, which was selling for $79.99. The couple also lined up last year at a Walmart in St. Louis for a TV set.
"I have an electronics complex," Matthew said with a laugh.
Chisholm and his friends made a long shopping list of electronics, including a Toshiba 320-gigabyte hard drive, a Garmin GPS and a Lenovo laptop.
For clothing stores such as The Gap, Express and Old Navy, denim was the most popular item. Many customers in the checkout line held several pair of jeans in their arms.
Leslie Abel, one of the 37 staff members working for Black Friday at Old Navy, said small stuff such as scarves also would be among the most wanted items.
Zhou said Black Friday is "impressive, wonderful and unimaginable."
"In China when stores have sales, they raise the prices first, and then cut them. But here you get really low prices."
For many people, Black Friday is about more than bargains.
"It’s fun. It’s entertaining to just watch the crowds," Amanda Wyne said.
Renee Aslanidis came to Old Navy with her friend, Kris Bellamy at 10 p.m. They were there to buy $15 jeans and $1 scarves. They also were interested in the free Kodak cameras Old Navy promised to the shoppers who arrived earliest, but they were too far back in the line to get one.
"It's like a sport, a contest. It’s about dash and run and grab. It’s about strategic planning," Aslanidis said. "You have to outline where to go, what are in the stores, so you go directly for the stuff and get out to the next store. It's a serious stuff for the fun part. It's about waiting in line with your friends and having a good time."