Isle shoppers get early start
Black Friday crowds ease merchants' fears of sluggish season
Hawaii appears to have escaped what some retail analysts predicted could be the worst holiday shopping season in years.
Thousands of sale-crazed residents flocked this morning to Pearlridge Center and Ala Moana Center for Black Friday. Some even had come a day early, crowding the aisles on Thanksgiving to beat the holiday rush.
Last week, Nachelle Hepfner and her husband pulled a reconnaissance mission at the toy stores to get a feel of what would be on sale yesterday and strategize the quickest way to scoop the items on her list.
Laptops, toys and household goods were among the discounted items local residents waited hours to snatch up.
Pearl City resident Luane Higuchi, who was in line at Toys R Us by 4 a.m. yesterday with more than 100 others, said the after-Thanksgiving sales are a tradition in her family, who have been hitting the malls before dawn for 12 years.
"It's quite exciting if you're able to find the doorbuster items and if you actually get what you want," said the mother of three while pushing her shopping cart with one hand and carrying her 1-year-old daughter, Karra-Ann, in the other.
Kennard Capili, 19, and Michael Cabras, 21, camped on the sidewalk for 23 hours to be the first in line at Pearlridge Center's Circuit City, which opened at 5 a.m.
The Kalihi residents, armed with the doorbuster ads, didn't mind spending their Thanksgiving at the store's entrance to be the first to buy $299 laptop computers and 50-inch high-definition televisions for $799.
A Circuit City employee said the number of people in line before the store's opening was about the same as last year.
The rising cost of living, including higher fuel prices, isn't stopping Kathleen Matutino's spirit of giving. The 38-year-old Waianae resident, who also spent the night at Circuit City for a laptop, is spending $500 more this year compared to last year.
"I think people are spending more buying stuff online," she said. "I did some shopping already online and don't even count that. You roll with the punches — you adapt (to the higher costs)."
McCully resident Darren Masu, who doubled his shopping budget this year, arrived at Ala Moana Center too late to snatch up a SpongeBob game for his 4-year-old son's Nintendo DS system. He, his wife and son arrived at 5:15 a.m. at KB Toys, where 50 to 100 people were in line when the store opened at 5 a.m..
KB Toys clerk Skye White said there was about the same number of people lined up this year, many of whom are buying the popular Vtech merchandise and big-ticket items such as bouncers and riding toys.
"It seems crazy — like there's tons of people," said Carla Matsui of Kaimuki who followed the droves to Ala Moana Center at 4 a.m. to attack her Christmas list early this year. "I'm totally not a shopper normally."
Trying to find parking and beat others to the doorbuster sales is a fun challenge for sisters Sheri Watanabe and Jenni Fujita of Kaimuki, who started at 5:45 a.m. at Macy's at Ala Moana Center. The sisters plan to shop for about 16 hours yesterday, eventually landing up at Pearlridge Shopping Center and Kahala Mall.
"I usually don't wake up so early in the morning, Watanabe said. "So for me it's invigorating, it's like a form of exercise."
Although some retail analysts predict a soft spending season this year, local residents said they will probably get swept up in the spirit and spend about as much or more than last year.
Rising gas prices and a slowing residential real estate market could affect consumer spending this holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation.
"It's different in Hawaii because we're used to everything costing more," Watanabe said. "Everything costs more here — housing, gas, everything."
Star-Bulletin reporter Gene Park contributed to this story.