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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 24, 2006

Turkey and a side of shopping

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

John Takeuchi of Manoa leaped into CompUSA last night as the store in Kaka'ako began letting customers 30 at a time come in earlier than its 9 p.m. opening time to avoid congesting the aisles. The checkout registers, however, didn't open until 9.

ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Customers lined the aisles last night at CompUSA's Kaka'ako store, which quickly filled to capacity shortly after its 9 p.m. opening. Scenes were similar at other stores that opened for business on Thanksgiving.

ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Gordon Wong walked the aisles of the toy section at Kmart yesterday, hoping to get a head start on his Christmas shopping.

The 46-year-old engineer and his son, Eric, had just watched "Happy Feet" at the nearby Dole Cannery Signature theaters before wandering over to get a $25 Christmas tree and some new ornaments.

"We're just checking out the stuff," said Eric Wong, 9, who asked Santa for a GameBoy game, an iPod and a new electric fan.

The Wongs were among the thousands of people who hit the stores yesterday, cramming Christmas shopping into a day already packed with cooking turkeys and visiting relatives.

Last night at CompUSA in Kaka'ako, shoppers began showing up about 5 p.m. and the line, estimated to be in the hundreds, snaked around the building toward South Street and to the back.

John Takeuchi, a Dole Middle School teacher, said having the store open on Thanksgiving gave him, his sisters and girlfriend a jump on Black Friday shopping. Takeuchi said he had scoped out CompUSA and was ready to buy but this was not going to be the only place he'll shop for the holidays.

"We're going to hit all the stores and shop and shop until we run out of money," he said.

To ease the rush, CompUSA allowed customers inside a few at a time beginning at 8:30 p.m. to browse, although no one could purchase until 9 p.m. By then cars were still pouring into the parking lot and double parking while others circled.

Although the second person in line at CompUSA had arrived at 5 p.m., many said they had not been waiting long and they were happy that people were being allowed in early. They came from all over the island with newspaper ads in hand, Christmas lists and money to spend.

CompUSA sales manager Cory Gallucci said last night's turnout was unlike everyday shoppers who could leave empty-handed.

"People are here to buy," he said. "And we're here to make sure they get everything they need."

Nancy Taylor and her friend Nicole Sieber were drawn in by CompUSA's newspaper ad that promised Bluetooth headsets free when you buy two and factor in the sale's price and rebate. Taylor said she really didn't like coming out on Thanksgiving and felt too rushed, but she couldn't pass up the deal.

"I want that free Bluetooth," she said.

Shoppers were five deep at the camera counter. People had to squeeze by a line of about 100 shoppers who had made their selections and were waiting to purchase, including Taylor and Sieber who said the wait and long lines were worthwhile.

"This is like starting off the shop-a-thon," Taylor said.

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, has long been considered the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. While it's still one of the busiest shopping days of the year, it's not as profitable as the last Saturday before Christmas.

Still, Black Friday can set the tone for the rest of the retail year.

"It certainly used to be that everything was closed on Thanksgiving," said Carol Pregill, president of Retail Merchants of Hawai'i. "We now have far more people, and the consumer has changed so much. The consumer doesn't look for value, they expect value. It's just the way it is."

For the past several years, Pregill said, many Hawai'i families have developed a new Thanksgiving tradition: "They go shopping. That's what it's become."

Many analysts doubt the profitability of opening on Thanksgiving and the early hours of Black Friday because of the extra labor costs. Some businesses that see a boost in revenue from so-called "door buster" sale items often then see a drop when the sales end.

And many merchants that had a surge in bargain hunters in the wee hours later suffered a drop in business after the early-bird specials ended and the crowds dissipated.

Still, that didn't stop retailers from opening earlier this year and offering deep discounts.

Kmart on Nimitz Highway was open until midnight, and was to reopen at 6 a.m. today. It lured customers on Thanksgiving by promoting a one-day sale on everything from Christmas trees to Crockpots.

Traci Paige, a 40-year-old employment counselor from Hawai'i Kai, headed to Kmart after a Thanksgiving lunch with her in-laws and after seeing the store's ads in the newspaper.

She wound up filling her shopping cart with wreaths, candy canes and cases of soda all on sale.

"I had some time today, and I wanted to get a good deal," said Paige, who was walking the aisles with her 4-year-old son, Christopher. "Everything is displayed so nicely. It's so tempting!"

Roommates Drew Laguana, Marcy Castro and Chelcy Reyes, who were shopping for Christmas ornaments at Kmart yesterday, will be at Ala Moana Center at some point today.

"I have my list ready," said Reyes, 20, a sociology major at Chaminade University who plans to shop at Ralph Lauren, Lacoste, Guess? and Arden B. today. "You know, it's one for you, two for me!"

Most retailers flung open their doors early this morning, with KB Toys Inc. opening more than 50 stores including those here at midnight.

Retailers here say earlier and earlier Christmas shopping seasons have been coming for some time.

"The day after Thanksgiving has been changing from a day where the family went to go see Santa Claus to one where they line up early for a let's-go-shopping day," said Ron Yoda, general manager of Kahala Mall. "It used to be a big, family production. Now it's standing in line at 4 or 5 in the morning."

Staff writers Eloise Aguiar and Dan Nakaso and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach Catherine E. Toth at ctoth@honoluluadvertiser.com.