After eager — some say crazy — shoppers waited for a handful of big retailers to open last night, reinforcements of consumers poured into stores around Hawaii this morning, clogging malls and ringing up purchases.
"The mall is packed," said Fred Paine, general manager of Pearlridge Center. "It’s difficult to even walk through it."
Paine’s assessment shortly before 11 a.m. is that holiday sales this year will be improved from last year based on reports from several mall tenants, including Aeropostale, Champs Sports, GAP, GameStop, Marc Ecko, Jeans Warehouse and Up & Riding.
"It seems like people are ready to spend money again," Paine said.
All stores at Pearlridge were open by 6 a.m., after a handful led by anchors Macy’s and Sears opened at 4 a.m.
Other retailers around the state kicked off holiday sales even earlier — on Thanksgiving Day, enticing Hawaii shoppers to trade home-cooked turkey and traditional family gatherings to stand in line for hours at stores to snatch up holiday gifts at bargain-basement prices.
A line estimated at about 1,000 people, up from roughly 800 last year, snaked across the parking lot of Toys "R" Us in Aiea to Pali Momi Street and Moanalua Road before the store opened last night. The store opened at 10 p.m., a couple of hours before midnight at the official start of Black Friday, traditionally one of the busiest shopping days of the holiday season.
The national toy chain is among many retailers aggressively luring customers to shop. Other stores like Sports Authority, Old Navy and Sears, normally closed on holidays, opened on Thanksgiving Day seeking sales in lean times.
Julia Pang of Waipahu, along with five family members, got in line at noon on Thanksgiving at Toys "R" Us. She said the family would spend a few thousand dollars on toys this year.
"You have a lot of people looking for better deals because the economy is so bad," she said. "Christmas is like one of biggest times of the year … (people) are willing to spend, but it’s all good deals."
Some Toys "R" Us items were half off the regular price.
The store opened on Thanksgiving for the first time to accommodate shoppers who wanted a head start on Black Friday shopping. It opened at midnight last year and at 5 a.m. on Black Friday in previous years.
"It’s a tremendous turnout, we’re very happy," said David Palmer, Toys "R" Us store manager. "I see confidence in their spending. We’re seeing sales of bigger ticket items go up, as well as the number of items they’re buying individually."
Jane Bonilla, who lives a block away from Toys "R" Us, camped at the store since 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, a family tradition for the past five years. She and her 10 children, along with seven grandchildren, were the first to get into the store. She estimated the family would spend as much as $3,000 — $500 more than last year.
"I like to buy Pampers cause it’s cheap and my kids (buy) all kinds of toys," she said. "We always come like a day before. My kids like to do that. They have fun, I guess."
By comparison, customers waited for about six hours before the store opened last year, according to Deborah Sharkey, spokeswoman for Pearlridge.
"Our customers definitely feel more confident about the economy and about their income," she said, adding that people are "splurging a little bit more."
Toys "R" Us spokeswoman Katelyn DeRogatis said the company is expecting its "biggest Christmas ever."
But not everyone is spending more this year.
Waipahu resident Jackie Gambon, who was shopping early this morning at Ala Moana Center, said she will likely spend less compared to last year since there are deeper discounts overall as retailers compete for customers.
More than 100 people camped at Best Buy in Iwilei, which provided two portable outhouses for the dedicated techies. A few thousand people were expected to shop today, according to Shawn Troup, store manager. The first people in line at Best Buy arrived at 2 p.m. on Wednesday.
"Customers are doing well, we’re expanding their pocketbooks by offering fantastic finance offerings," he said of the company’s zero-interest programs. "It’s allowing people to be able to take advantage of our financial offers and use our money and not there’s."
He said people are spending more this year, and have become savvier shoppers as they research the best deals.
Besides material items, the midnight trek resulted in new bonds and friendships for some who shared food and talked story to pass the time as they waited in line.
Ewa Beach resident Christopher Dekdeken pitched a tent at 4 a.m. on Thursday and waited in line at Best Buy on Nimitz Highway with five friends.
"It’s nice when you meet new people, share food, share some drinks — local style we got going on over here," he said. "It’s a bonding experience."
The friends intended to buy high-definition televisions and computers, and expected to save as much as $500 on certain items.
While many shoppers said they were drawn in the early hours by the deep discounts, others came out of curiosity.
"I’m just checking it out — I don’t have anything specific, a special item I want to buy, but I just want to know if anything is a really good price," said Makiki resident Stephanie Wong, who was at Walmart on Keeaumoku Street at about 12:45 a.m. with her husband, James, and sons, six-year-old Victor, and four-year-old Eric.
The line there circled one side of the building.
"This is my first time — for me it’s crazy," she said. "I’m thinking about going home."