Florida appliance dealers reported doing "huge business" Friday, but shoppers eager to cash in on Energy Star appliance discounts did not grab quite all the rebate money.
Before hitting the stores today, however, bargain hunters should check the appliance rebate Web site: www.rebates.com/florida. The 20 percent discounts on six types of Energy Star appliances plus $75 bonuses for disposing of the ones being replaced could have run out.
A running tally on the Web site Friday night said only $3.2 million of the $15.5 million for rebates remained unclaimed. In the first two hours of the program, half the rebate cash was gone.
"You can register online all night, so it could end up all gone or it could last well into Saturday morning," said Brenda Buchan, program coordinator for Gov. Charlie Crist's energy office.
The money is doled out on a first come, first served basis.
Thousands of eager shoppers gathered before dawn Friday outside dozens of local appliance dealers that opened as early at 5:30 a.m. for the appliance version of cash for clunkers.
"It was a mad rush," said Marcos Avelleno, manager of Sears in St. Petersburg. "But after a couple hours it became just a steady flow of customers."
Traffic was heavy but not as heavy as state officials anticipated when they predicted all the money would be gone the first day.
Like many retailers, the St. Petersburg Sears bulked up the sales staff to 14, trained them in the confusing rebate rules for three weeks and opened a four-computer rebate lounge with free coffee and doughnuts to help shoppers file paperwork that could only be done online.
Shoppers were appreciative of the deep discounts but not the time-consuming drill required to apply for a rebate.
The Web site to download mail-in rebate forms and fill out applications for priority reservations was so swamped by 11 a.m. that frustrated shoppers spent up to 30 minutes trying to key in their information.
"It kept kicking back everything I tried to enter," said Eve Milby, a Brooksville teacher trying to qualify for a dishwasher she bought.
Most shoppers read the rules ahead of time or placed orders days earlier but did not execute the sales until Friday.
Altercations and angry voices were few. The process was orderly. And beefed up collections of trained store clerks fanned out to help people navigate the process even as they waited in each of four appliance checkout lines at Lowe's.
"This has been a huge shot in the arm for our business," said Donnie Ray, operations manager.
Most stores added 10 to 30 percent discounts on top of the rebates, so some shoppers left pleased even without rebates.
"I got 30 percent off to replace a dishwasher that quit yesterday. That's a great deal without a rebate," said Roger Vieno, a St. Petersburg retiree who declined to apply after learning the rules. "I may be retired, but my time is too valuable to waste that much of it."
"I got a good deal on a dishwasher — assuming I actually get a rebate," said Clarence Dadswell, a St. Petersburg retiree.
He won't know for three months, the time a Delaware contractor has to mail out reimbursement debit cards.
Mark Albright can be reached at email@example.com.