ST. PETERSBURG — The state's cash for clunker appliances rebate program drew hundreds of people to stores around the Tampa Bay area before dawn Friday.
About 100 people were lined up outside the Sears store at Tyrone Square Mall when the doors opened at 6 a.m.
It was a mad rush for about an hour, a manager said, but soon settled into a steady flow of customers.
The shoppers were lining up for a shot at a rebate that could cut the cost of major appliances by 40 to 60 percent.
But there's a big catch: Buyers must apply for the rebate starting at 11 a.m. and there's no guarantee there will be enough money for everyone. And it's a complicated process that can only be done online.
Beginning at 11 a.m. Friday, buyers can go to rebates.com/florida to apply for a priority reservation for the program.
But with only $17.6 million available statewide, the money may run out before the day is through.
A running tally of how much rebate money remains unclaimed will appear on the Web site, to be updated every 30 minutes. So the first hour or so will tell if anybody waiting to jump into the fray after lunch has a snowball's chance.
The program offers 20 percent discounts on six types of Energy Star-rated appliances and $75 more if you can prove you properly disposed of each old energy hog. Retailers are offering their own discounts, increasing the potential savings.
Most of the major retailers in the Tampa Bay area are offering deals and opened early to take advantage of consumer demand, including Sears, Apsco, Lowe's, HH Gregg and Famous Tate.
The demand is so great that other states that have run similar programs have had trouble processing all the applications and run out of money quickly.
"It's a good deal — if I get the rebate,'' said Tom Mollo of Treasure Island, a retired sheriff's deputy from Binghamton, N.Y. He called the process to get the rebate "a real pain.''
Some stores have set aside rooms with computers to help consumers through the rebate process.