Some were first-timers. Others were old hands at maneuvering through crowds and standing in checkout lanes for as long as an hour. Shoppers by the hundreds turned out for Black Friday craziness across Hernando County — buying lots and saving big, they said. And that was just the scene before daybreak. Manager Steve Midkoff at Best Buy, on Commercial Way in Spring Hill, estimated that a crowd of about 400 awaited the opening of the doors at his store at 5 a.m. Friday. After the initial influx, he was directing groups of 20 customers at a time into the store.
At 4 a.m., the line outside Target at Suncoast Crossing in Spring Hill stretched to the back of the building.
Manager Ed Cottrell at HHGregg, the appliance and electronics store at the Coastal Way shopping center in Spring Hill, said about 200 folks were bunched for that store's opening at 4 a.m.
If a prize were awarded to the earliest on the shopping scene, it likely would go to Valerie Hanna of Port Richey. She set up camp outside Best Buy at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, with "chairs, pillows, blankets and my boyfriend to lean on."
The 26-year-old Hanna and Vincent Jimenez, 30, came to buy a $500 laptop computer on sale for $150. She got the last one.
Rhonda Phillipson of Weeki Wachee could have been a runner-up to Hanna. Phillipson, 51, dragged to her car a cart full of electronics from HHGregg and her camp chair. She'd been on the scene since Thanksgiving night.
Hanna was among the pleased shoppers, who also ranged from stoic to rude. The same could be said of clerks and floor managers, customers said.
A brief scuffle was reported outside Kohl's at Suncoast Crossing before the department store opened at 3 a.m. to some 200 shoppers. Several customers were evicted from nearby Target for line jumping. Walmart on Cortez Boulevard, open all Thanksgiving day and night, nonetheless experienced a mad rush of pushing and shoving in Friday's wee hours, said a potential shopper who did an about-face and left without a purchase.
Sheriff's deputies were stationed throughout the major shopping centers, as they are every Black Friday, said Deputy Chris Vascellero, outside Target. He and Deputy Scott Reak were equipped with bicycles to patrol the crowd.
Shopper Lindsay Beltzer of Webster, Mass., visiting her mother in Hernando County, exited Kohl's with a smile and a cart full with Rachael Ray cookware and a Presto fryer, and said, "I live for this day every year."
She and mom had arrived for the 3 a.m. opening.
On a bench just inside Kohl's, John Voltaggio, 62, of Spring Hill awaited his wife, Chanse, with an overflowing cart of dishes, flatware and small kitchen appliances.
"This was my first time (for Black Friday), and it's my last," he declared.
Another first-timer, Stephanie Fulton of Spring Hill, 32, said her husband normally ran the Black Friday gauntlet while she stayed home with their children. "I wanted to see the chaos," she said as she shopped for home entertainment equipment at HHGregg.
Meanwhile, Lois Lovell, 70, of Brooksville checked out of Kohl's after 55 minutes in line. "I feel I got what I wanted," she said with a smile, pointing at a piece of luggage. She had perused sale ads and determined this was the best buy around.
On the other hand, Patty Lovell of Brooksville grimaced.
"The worst experience of my life," she said as she left Kohl's.
The 53-year-old Lovell, who has an ailing back, said she asked a clerk for help with a heavy box and was told she'd have to manage herself.
Lounging outside Target, Billy Ward, 25, of Spring Hill said he was taking a break from the line in the electronics department. With two companions, they were tag teaming. They had arrived at 4 a.m. to buy a digital camera. Watching customers leave the store, Ward said he'd seen a lot of TVs purchased.
Renee Scandora, 50, of Spring Hill thought her half-hour wait to check out of HHGregg was satisfactory, especially given the door-buster savings. It was her second stop before 5 a.m.
Robert Toler, 19, of Spring Hill, with a Wii player and a Blu-ray player under one arm and a half-dozen DVDs in hand at Best Buy, calculated he'd saved about $100.
Many early-bird tickets were half price — and even less.
After stocking up on discounted merchandise, most of the early morning shoppers said they had similar plans for the rest of the day: Go home and sleep.
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.