TAMPA — The Best Buy store on Dale Mabry Highway already was packed Monday with shoppers using their lunch hours to take advantage of early holiday sale prices.
But many of those customers found time to stop and take cellphone pictures of some even more dedicated shoppers: the people already in line four days early for the Black Friday doorbuster prices.
Shoppers all over the country have been pitching tents and claiming their places in line well ahead of time, said Jeremy Baier, a spokesman for Best Buy. The first to begin camping out was a group in Cleveland, which set up a tent 10 days ahead of the sale, which kicks off at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving.
“We're definitely seeing a lot of excitement going into Black Friday,” Baier said.
On Monday afternoon, there were six tents set up in front of the South Tampa store, each of them plugged into a tangle of extension cords that powered their televisions, game consoles and stereos.
By Tuesday, the campers said, the line probably will start to wrap around the building.
Melissa Fitzwater, who was camping with her family for a 10th year, said the most dedicated Black Friday shoppers are in line early every year. They all know each other and help watch each others' tents if someone has to leave to get food or take a shower.
Her two sons, ages 7 and 10, love it when they all play football and soccer together in the parking lot at the end of the day, she said. Her family came from Winter Haven to camp out days early so they could be at the front of the line for laptops and tablets.
“They got straight A's this year, so this is their reward,” Fitzwater said.
The village of tents is fenced off from the busy parking lot. In the middle is the “community tent,” where the campers can watch television or play video games together. It has a microwave, a fan and a big-screen TV.
Best Buy usually works with the people in line to make them feel comfortable and safe, Baier said. In some locations, the managers provide food and snacks, he said.
“We definitely try to help them out as much as we can with the restsrooms and energy to charge their phones and things like that,” Baier said.
The group started lining up a few days earlier than usual this year, because the sale starts earlier than usual, Fitzwater said. Best Buy, like many other retailers, is opening its doors and kicking off the sales on Thanksgiving Day, rather than early on Black Friday.
But Fitzwater doesn't think dinner will keep people from coming out to the stores. It didn't stop her family from camping out a week in advance.
“We can be thankful any day,” she said. “We're spending time with our family in our tent and playing video games together.”
For many of the dedicated shoppers, like 31-year-old Ray Solomon, camping out days ahead of time is how they always spend their holiday. He and his friends set up their two tents — the first two in the line — last Thursday. He may not even buy anything this year, he said.
“It's definitely just a tradition,” Solomon said. “But if I know there are things on sale I know are pretty good, I might get it.”