Saturday, November 27, 2004

Shoppers crammed the Wal-Mart near Ala Moana Center the day after Thanksgiving yesterday. While Wal-Mart workers removed protective black plastic wrapping, Wailani Farm, left, and Violeta Rivera grabbed and filled their cart with DVD players.

In shopping, saving
means spending

Hawaii residents flock to stores
for hot deals during the start of
the holiday shopping season

After six hours of shopping, about $650 spent, and three separate loads of gifts deposited in her car, Alicia Del Rio's holiday spirit was beginning to wane.

"Why do we do this?" she asked herself, standing inside the packed Sears Ala Moana store yesterday at noon with another load of bags in her arms.

"Because the price is right," she answered herself.

With a "massive" extended family to shop for, Del Rio got an early start on the traditional first day of the Christmas shopping season yesterday, joining the hordes of other shoppers who invaded local retail centers to take advantage of after-Thanksgiving sales.

Retailers typically look to the day after Thanksgiving both as an early indicator of what's in store for the crucial Christmas shopping season and as a way of whipping up holiday shopping enthusiasm with "doorbuster" prices on selected items.

Yesterday's strong turnout set visions of a bumper year dancing in their heads.

"Things are looking much stronger than last year," said Troy Yach, general manager of the CompUSA outlet on Ala Moana.

Yach said that last year some of the store's registers went idle sometimes but that yesterday every register had been busy constantly from morning into the afternoon.

"We're expecting a really strong Christmas this year," he said.

Shoppers braved pre-dawn crowds, scarce parking and long lines at checkout counters, but came away tickled with the rock-bottom prices.

The start of the shopping season took on the air of a holiday itself at the Keeaumoku Street Wal-Mart store as sales associates counted down the seconds -- New Year's Eve-like -- to 6 a.m., when they cut open long rows of merchandise hidden under sheets of black plastic throughout the store.

In the appliance section, this set elbows flying, fondues sets tumbling to the floor, and women yelping as toes were stepped on.

A baby in a cart cried for her mother, who had lunged into the crowd grabbing electric mixers, sandwich presses and other kitchen gadgets priced under $5.

"It's crazy. I can't believe we're doing this. But the prices are so good," shopper Tammy Barayuga said after emerging from the scrum.

The crowds were so large even before sunup that KB Toys at Ala Moana set up a system in which newly arrived shoppers entered via one line, found their merchandise, then exited and got back in a separate line that led to the checkout counters.

"We had to try and control the chaos," said Wayne Simmons, KB Toys' district sales manager for Hawaii and Guam.

"We don't know the (sales) numbers yet but it's obvious to all of us that the traffic was much heavier than (last year)," he said.

University of Hawaii students Ken Natividad and Robin Ferguson, who have eight nieces and nephews between them and had arrived before the doors opened at 5 a.m., said it was worth the wait. Among other items, they'd scored a radio-controlled Incredible Hulk Monster truck for $14.99, marked down from $44.99.

"The prices are good, but it's also fun. That's why we do it," Ferguson said.

The bargains didn't last, however. Many stores, hoping to lure the crowds in for an early shot in the arm, dangled their low-low prices only until 11 a.m.

The party ended even earlier for shoppers seeking specific items. Shortly after 6 a.m., KB employees turned into street touts, offering the last remaining Power Rangers walkie-talkies and other items to willing hands in the lines outside.

Though the bargains didn't last, the lines of shoppers waiting at checkout stands persisted throughout the day.

"It seems crazy to do this just to save a few bucks," said Diane Lee, standing in a Sears checkout line about 30 yards long. "But it feels so good to give gifts, better than getting them."

Some people who would otherwise be sleeping off a turkey binge justified the early morning shopping spree as a chance to knock out the bulk of their Christmas buying early and cheaply.

"It seems silly but I'll be the one laughing later," said Peter Lee, who had arrived at the CompUSA store on Ala Moana by 4:30 a.m. to get a parking space and a jump on cheap laptops and software items for his son, daughter and other relatives.

Among the items were a computer-protection software three-pack that, after rebates, will be "virtually free," he said.

"I guess they just do that to get people into the stores," he says.

Lee, an engineer, plans to buy a few more Christmas items in the weeks ahead, though, and expects to spend more overall this year than in recent years.

"These prices are great. Plus the economy seems to be getting better. I guess I'm feeling more confident this year," he said.



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