Yellow caution tape encircled half of the sidewalk in front of the Rosedale Best Buy Wednesday evening, blocking off a space for the tents and folding chairs of shoppers dedicated to the cause of getting a deal.
"Occupy Best Buy," shouted Edgewood resident Christina Johnson, who was huddled under blankets and enshrouded by a hood to keep off the cold. "This is our one opportunity to get a flat-screen TV. … We've been waiting all year."
Johnson and her husband, Shaka, were the second of four groups in line at the store by 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Johnsons, like customers camped outside Best Buy stores across the country, were going to miss Thanksgiving with family to ensure that they got a once-a-year deal on electronics like a 42-inch television for under $200.
"They think we're crazy," said Shaka of their relatives, who were planning to bring Thursday dinner to the couple in the store's parking lot. Unlike some other people queued up, the Johnsons did not bring a tent and were taking turns holding their place in line while the other warmed up in their parked car.
The only other time Christina waited for a Black Friday sale, she said, the store opened at 5 a.m. and she arrived just three hours earlier. This year, Best Buy — and many other stores — have moved up their openings to midnight Thursday, thereby moving up the time she arrived to get in line.
Her wait time grew exponentially — from three hours to about 30 — this year, however, because she had been reading online accounts of people arriving days in advance.
"We weren't planning to come until around noon [Thursday]," said Johnson, who had also been scoping out nearby stores. "But then we saw people already waiting."
Several miles away, at the White Marsh Best Buy, three guys in their 20s were partly responsible for the Johnsons' panic: Jim Davis of Fallston, Patrick Conway and Michael Long, both of Parkville, set up a tent in the grassy knoll outside the store around noon Wednesday. And they weren't even the first ones there — another group had arrived more than eight hours before and erected their own pup tent.
"This is cake," Davis said, explaining that the three friends had camped last year, when it was colder and they didn't have the cover of a tent. They were prepared with sleeping bags, cell phones and pre-planned visits from family members with food. "We're professional sitters."
Although they were each motivated to get the same television discount that the Johnsons were waiting on, another reason the friends were willing to wait throughout Thanksgiving was to collect and re-sell door prize tickets, hoping to make a tidy profit on freebies.
Management at the White Marsh store was not concerned about the campers.
"We would never tell our best customers not to be there, unless there was a safety concern" said manager Charles Ostrander, who was pleased that shoppers were looking forward to an event that employees spent substantial man-hours preparing. "We're more organized this year than in the past. … We spend a lot of time to be sure it goes smoothly."
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