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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 1:09 p.m., Friday, November 29, 2002

Bargain hunters clear store shelves

Customers, including these at Kahala's K B Toys, stood in line early at shops around O'ahu this morning to get a jump on their holiday shopping.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

By Andrew Gomes and Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writers

Pre-dawn rain didn't dampen the spirits of thousands of shoppers and bargain hunters around the state this morning, as long lines snaked through dozens of stores that opened their doors early on the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season.

At Kahala Mall, the buying frenzy began 30 minutes earlier than scheduled at KB Toys as an employee opened the doors at 4:30 a.m. and sounded the rallying cry: "Let's go shop for toys!"

About 60 people in line quickly filled the aisles ready with 50-gallon clear-plastic bags.

Sharon Wong of Wilhelmina Rise was one of the first in the store, and loaded up 15 to 20 canisters containing one of the morning's hottest sellers. What was it? "I don't know, but they're $2," she said. "It's just a good stocking stuffer. If it saves me money, it's great."

The hot seller turned out to be Lego action figures, Technic Toa Bionicles, on sale for $2.88 from $11.99. Just one hour into his 13-hour shift, KB Toys employee Bob Yanagawa was sweating and couldn't open the boxes of Bionicles fast enough for shoppers who scooped them by the dozens before they hit the shelf.

"I got white ... blue ... if you don't got it, get it because it's going to go," he called out to shoppers clogging the aisles. "They're going faster than I can pop the boxes open. This is the best."

Retailers around the state are hoping scenes like those play out throughout the holiday shopping season. The turnout of shoppers on this day after Thanksgiving appeared to be on par with last year's, although crowds were noticeably smaller outside some stores.

Retail sales may rise

Experts say Hawai'i retailers could see a 2 percent to 4 percent increase from last year. But nationally, some say the lack of must-have items, combined with a season six days shorter than a year ago, exacerbates what is expected to be an already difficult holiday, given the sluggish economy. Experts say sales forecasts range from a high of a 3.75 percent increase to a low of 2 percent.

At the parking entrance to the Kunia Wal-Mart this morning, store sales associates Aaron Even and Harry Williams were directing cars into the crowded lot as impatient drivers honked and cut each other off trying to get in.

"We call it the blitz," said Williams.

Stores that drew the biggest crowds today appeared to be those that had the best sales. That attracted people like Kaimuki residents Tamera Meznarich and her 13-year-old son, Bryce, who were in line about 4 a.m. outside the Kahala KB Toys.

"We're not crazy. We're bargain hunters," Meznarich said. Meznarich bought 30 items for $125.56, then headed to Radio Shack to get a $138 DVD player with surround-sound speakers that was regularly priced at $260.

Popular items go fast

Peter Tabilang, Radio Shack merchandising director in Hawai'i, said the 15 or 20 DVD systems sold out in 15 minutes after the store opened at 6 a.m. Other popular items were a $48 Cinevision DVD player and $5 stocking stuffers like universal remote controls and a Sharp personal organizers.

"It's the biggest retail day of the year," he said. "We call it Hot Friday."

Typically, the day after Thanksgiving, more commonly known as Black Friday, is one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Last year, it was the sixth-busiest day, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Stores open early

Several retailers tried to capture some of the unusual consumer traffic before the sun came up by offering early-bird specials, such as Wet Seal, which offered 20 percent off everything in its Ala Moana store from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Others like Kmart, Sports Authority and CompUSA had five- to six-hour sales starting early in the morning.

Sears at Ala Moana opened at 5 a.m. with a local radio station broadcasting live out of the department selling mu'umu'u. At Windward Mall, business was normal at most of the stores that were open early this morning, such as Macy's and Sears. But more than 100 shoppers at KB Toys found themselves standing in line for hours to pay for thousands of dollars worth of toys on sale.

The long lines and crowded aisles clearly aggravated some shoppers, even a few who are used to the frenzied scene.

Rush results in long lines

Nadine Tatofi, a cashier at the Sheraton Moana Surfrider, is a veteran day-after-Thanksgiving shopper, and found this year particularly frustrating at KB Toys. "It wasn't worth it," she said. "I got here at 5 a.m. and it took me 15 minutes to shop. But it took me three hours just to pay."

Jack Rivers, a Kailua business consultant, shopped Wednesday and had $200 worth of toys, but was told by a sales clerk to come back today to take advantage of the sale.

But when he returned this morning after the store opened at 5 a.m., Rivers said most of the toys he had in his hand Wednesday were already gone.

"I had to get up at 4 o'clock to save $100," he said. "But they're all sold out. This is too long, too early and too little savings."

By 8:30 this morning he had been standing in line for more than 3 hours to pay for toys for his 3- and 5-year-old boys. "The lesson is be patient, be patient," Rivers said . "It's for your kids."

Reach Andrew Gomes at agomes@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8065.