They represented the whole range of Black Friday shopping expertise: from the pro to the first-timer. "I'm the virgin," joked Michele Bosland as she stood in the h.h. gregg checkout line with friends Sue Arena and Carrie Harkin, all of Port Richey.
Bosland, 42, nabbed a Curtis tablet and Pillow Pet at the U.S. 19 store, which opened at 10 p.m. Thursday to a line that snaked out past neighboring Burlington Coat Factory.
It was the first holiday season for both locations, which opened earlier this year in the old Target that closed two years ago. "It was good," Bosland said of her shopping experience. "I'll do it again next year."
The women began at 5:30 a.m. Friday. No jumping the gun, despite many stores' doorbuster openings a day earlier.
"I was too fat and happy and not in a mood to drive," said Harkin, 46, dubbed by the other two as "the pro."
Among the stores they hit were JCPenney in Gulf View Square, where they said crowds were jockeying to get discounted Crock-Pots and kitchen appliances. Later they planned to go to Sports Authority for some golf clubs. Then home for naps.
The group was among those who filled up about two-thirds of the parking lot at h.h. gregg and Burlington.
At 9:30 a.m. both stores had fair crowds, with tablets and big screen televisions being the hot items, said h.h. gregg manager Ed Cottrell. Many customers also clutched $10 DVD players. Fueled by coffee and water and a two-hour nap, Cottrell and his 50 employees opened the 26,000-square-foot store at 10 p.m. Thursday.
Employees handed out tickets for doorbuster items, some of which had sold out by Friday, he said.
"Everyone was very nice," said Cottrell, who was working his fourth Black Friday. Employees handed out tickets for sale items while customers waited in line.
The scene was more chaotic at Target in Spring Hill when it opened at 9 p.m. Thursday.
"It took us an hour and half to check out," said Doris Wright, 65. She lives in St. Petersburg but each year travels to the northern counties to begin her holiday shopping. She ran her finger back and forth several times to show the length of the lines inside the store. Wright's haul was impressive: a Nook reader, 35 mm camera, a DVD player, a Sharp steam vacuum and pajamas.
West Pasco's new Burlington Coat Factory bustled with folks picking through the racks of sequined holiday dresses and boxed designer jewelry.
"It's a good place to get body wash," said Charlotte Denson, 26, of Land O'Lakes. She and her husband, Adrian, had started on Thursday at Walmart and bought toys for several needy kids whose names were on the Salvation Army Angel Tree.
"How can you say no to an angel who has books or a fishing pole on his list?" said Adrian Denson.
The shopping frenzy continued into the afternoon. About 3:30 p.m. nearly all 3,200 parking spaces at the Shops at Wiregrass in Wesley Chapel were occupied.
"It's been very orderly," said Debbie Detweiler, marketing director for the outdoor mall, where Joseph A. Bank menswear store kicked off the staggered store openings that continued until the official 6 a.m. opening. "Shoppers really did their homework and mapped out the stores that had the deals they wanted." Santa arrived at 10 a.m. and heard wish lists for a full day. Many of the stores left their front doors propped open to accommodate the crowds.
The sales even attracted a former Tampa Bay Buccaneer.
"This is my second time out today," said Derrick "Ricky" Reynolds, a cornerback who played seven seasons for the Bucs and three for the New England Patriots. He had been out at 10:30 a.m. with his 14-year-old daughter but came back alone to buy gifts for his family. He got a purse for 25 percent off, plus an additional 15 percent off at Macy's. He also found a game for his son that was $50 off.
"That's pretty good," he said.
Reynolds, now 47 and in real estate, said he tries to be frugal.
"My son wanted a computer," he said. "I told him that might have to be for graduation."
At Toys "R" Us in Port Richey, a new wave of shoppers had started to come in after the opening at 8 p.m. Thursday.
"We boycotted (Black Thursday)," said JoAnn Larson, 33, who was shopping with Shawna Henthorne, 42.
Larson, who has three children, said she went last year on Thursday and got good deals.
"It was totally worth it," she said. "I couldn't have done Christmas without it."
But she decided that the stores' decision to push opening times even earlier was too much.
"We have friends who work in retail we couldn't see for Thanksgiving because they had to sleep."
Others also echoed her criticism. They said they resented being shortchanged on family time, but at the same time they felt trapped because they desperately needed the discounts. They also didn't like the idea of retail workers being denied a Thanksgiving holiday.
"I think it's asinine," said Adrian Denson. "And you can use that word in the paper."
However, Pat Heinrich, 70, of Wesley Chapel, saw no harm in it.
"If people want to go at 8 o'clock or 2 o'clock in the morning, why not?" said Heinrich as she rested on a bench near Wiregrass center court. She however, chose to sleep in and arrived at the mall at 1 p.m. with two of her granddaughters.
Denson and other shoppers said they planned to spend about the same or less this year than they did in 2011. He and his wife are teachers who have gone years with no raises.
Dawnmarie Crisantemi, 38, who emerged with bags of gifts for three grandsons, said the same was true for her job in the billing department of a diagnostic center. People are putting off things like blood tests because of the economy. Meanwhile, insurance, utilities and food costs continue to rise.
"Everything goes up except our pay," she said.