Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Business

Camping out for Black Friday has become tradition for some

TAMPA — A dozen Black Friday shoppers lay in wait, kicked back in multicolored lawn chairs and sprawled out on air mattresses outside the electronics store.

They have been there for the better part of a week, but these committed customers are hardly roughing it.

Some watch flat-screen television inside their tent. Some play video games or listen to music on state-of-the-art headphones. One man conducts his technical support business straight out of his tent on a laptop computer.

For most, camping on the concrete outside a Best Buy has become as much a part of Thanksgiving as turkey and pumpkin pie.

"It's awesome being out here," said Ray Solomon, 30, who is camping outside Best Buy, 1725 N Dale Mabry Highway, for his eighth consecutive year. "I know all these guys because we've all done it before. I see them every year. It's like our own little community."

Solomon, who set up a tent built for 12 people, is camping with two friends. They share the space with his flat-screen television, surround-sound system and video game console — relics of Black Fridays passed.

His friends go to work during the day while Solomon, who runs his business from his laptop, minds the tent.

With a 24-hour Walmart and McDonald's just steps away, the campers don't want for much.

Jared Freedland, 21, isn't as seasoned as some of the other campers. But as he spoke excitedly about the laptop and television he would save hundreds on at week's end, it was clear: Freedland is hooked.

"It's like a tradition thing," said Freedland, a University of South Florida student. "It's fun."

Freedland's mother, Barbara Freedland, didn't agree. She stopped by Tuesday to see how her son and campmate Rick Hilton were faring.

"I think this is so stupid," she said, eyeing her son's dirt-caked flip-flops. "It's disgusting."

But it's catching on.

Across the bay, a group of teens were starting their own tradition outside a Best Buy on 22nd Avenue N in St. Petersburg.

Sammy Xaypharath, 16, Thomas Thanthima, 14, and two other friends have been taking turns living on the sidewalk since Saturday.

The St. Petersburg High students stash food and other supplies in a small tent. It's less comfortable here: A store employee offered to let them use a bigger tent to sleep in. They call their worrying parents constantly and fend off daily taunts from customers.

Is it worth it?

Absolutely, Xaypharath said.

"I don't want to wait in line," he said. "We want to make sure we are first."

Marissa Lang can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386 or on Twitter @Marissa_Jae.

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