ST. PETERSBURG — Lorie Davenport really wanted to be first.
So much so that she set up camp in front of a Best Buy store a full nine days before Black Friday.
That put her at the head of a line of bargain hunters expected to curl around the building by Thanksgiving night. Davenport, who lives 2 miles from the Tyrone-area store, is also holding a spot for her husband, daughter, other family members and three friends. And that's not counting Isis, her chihuahua Pomeranian.
Sitting in a beach chair outside a tent sporting a Florida Gators logo Thursday, Davenport, 43, reveled at her prized spot.
"This is our sixth year," she said. "Usually we come six or seven days ahead and we've never been first. We just have a hooting time."
Friends and family think they're crazy. Passers-by launch into you-wouldn't-believe-it phone calls. They gawk. They honk. Some whip out cell phones to snap pictures. Others stop to talk.
"We get just as much of a kick out of it," said Tina Thain, 42, who takes the night shift with her husband, Dennis, 48. "It's like going to a people zoo. You're sitting there having a conversation on the sidewalk and people are driving by and thinking you're crazy. It's really no different from sitting on the front porch."
The tradition began with Davenport's daughter, Amanda Linton, and Thain's daughter, Amber. That first year, the best friends from Boca Ciega High School wanted MP3 players and begged their mothers to let them hang out outside Best Buy to snag bargains.
"We wanted to go by ourselves," recalled Linton, now 22 and the mother of 3-month-old Madison.
"Of course, Lorie and I decided that we weren't going to let two 16-17-year-old girls go stand out on the sidewalk three to four days by themselves," Thain said. "We had a really small tent. We were definitely not prepared. It got cold. I had zero sleep."
Now veterans, the small party — minus Amber, who is in the Navy — is outfitted with a large tent, blankets, pillows, coolers and fold-up chairs under a canopy.
Davenport, who takes the day shift, said she spends the time surfing the internet on her smart phone, texting and updating her status on Facebook for family in Michigan. She's eagerly awaiting the newspaper ad to see the specifics of what will be on sale.
Thanksgiving is covered, she said.
She and husband Ryan, 39, a postal worker, will celebrate with family. They will deliver hot dishes to the Thains, Indiana natives with no relatives nearby, who are content to spend the day outside Best Buy.
"Last year, one of my staff members, he brought us dessert," said Thain, a supervisor at Macy's credit and customer services in Clearwater. "They all think I'm crazy, too, but they get a kick out of it."
Store manager Drew Newman said much of the preparation for Black Friday will take place the day before Thanksgiving. Employees will arrive at 2 a.m. on Friday and the doors will open at 5. At about 3 or 4 a.m., they will start handing out tickets for the big items, he said.
Thain said she and her husband hope to buy a speaker system for the wide-screen TV they snagged last year. A Blu-ray DVD player is also on their list. The Davenports are hoping for an iMac, Blu-ray player and movies. Ryan Davenport confided that he'd also like a bigger television in the realm of 55 inches.
"Last year, we spent over $3,000, but we saved $3,000 to $4,000 as well," his wife said.
"Usually I'm home by 10 o'clock. Then I go home and I sleep. It usually takes me a day and a half to recover from this week. … We might retire it after this year. I'm a nana now," the first-time grandmother said.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283.