WESLEY CHAPEL — Mike and Cindy Kulikowski were armed and ready for Black Friday. Smart phones in hand, the Land O'Lakes couple used "frugal" apps to make sure deals really were deals by comparing stores' prices with competitors'.
"We'll know if we're spending too much money," said Mike, 39.
They bought some Wii games and Blu-Ray DVDs. The movies, regularly priced at $30 each, were on sale for $9.
The couple got up at 5 a.m., an hour later than some of the retailers were opening. "We overslept," confessed Cindy, a group fitness manager at Lifestyle Family Fitness.
They missed out on the cheapest laptops at Best Buy, which opened at 4 a.m. with a line that snaked around the big-box store and included at least one woman who had camped out since Tuesday. "We were shocked at the line at Best Buy, but it went quickly."
No problems were reported in Pasco as crowds hit stores, lured by deep discounts offered earlier than usual by retailers vying for consumers' dollars in a county still plagued with double-digit unemployment.
The hordes lined up for doorbuster deals and the circling for parking spaces at the Shops at Wiregrass suggested to some that a recovery is under way.
"In spite of the economy we are seeing a lot of traffic," said Angie Pearson, vice president and manager of the Wiregrass Macy's. The store opened at 4 a.m., the earliest ever. Popular items included discounted stud earrings and women's shoes. However the most sought-after item was a coupon for $10 off any sales before 1 p.m.
The Target at Bruce B. Downs Boulevard at County Line Road sold out of $3 small appliances in 10 minutes. Best Buy at the Grove shopping center off State Road 54 quickly sold out of its Nook readers and other limited quantity items. At Toys R Us, which opened at 10 p.m. Thursday, aisles were still crowded with shoppers pushing full carts.
"We got all the sales papers and looked at where we wanted to go first," said Joe Merrill, 27, of Zephyrhills, who was carting a 55-inch television out of Best Buy. Once priced at $2,599, it had been discounted to $1,449. The group he was with had first been to Best Buy at 3:30 a.m. When they saw the line, they opted to go to Target, then JCPenney.
They returned to Best Buy midmorning. But not before they'd stocked up on gifts and put them in their Toyota Tundra pickup.
"Our truck is crammed full," said Terri Walton, opening the door to prove it.
Traffic was even brisk at the Goodwill thrift store on State Road 56, with people having to wait in checkout lines and employees handing out fliers advertising $29.99 coffeemakers and toaster-griddle combos, as well as Transformers for $9.99. On the public address system, a woman announced all books were "buy one get one free."
Pat Barnett came all the way from Brooksville with her daughter, Ashley, and 3-year-old granddaughter, Delaine.
They got a truck for Delaine and some colorful mixing bowls for $1 each.
"You can get Christmas here," Barnett said. "One woman came in here and found Waterford crystal."
Not everybody was out to shop. John Lacefield and Steve Strickland talked fantasy football outside Bath & Body Works while the women they were with scooped up deals.
"We're doing all the carrying and the paying," joked Strickland. A few minutes later, Lacefield's girlfriend showed up, loaded down with shopping bags.
"Can you put these in the car?"
Seconds later, she was gone again.
Lisa Buie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4604.