Jeffrey Alvarado and Sue Lykins were in a good mood Thursday, relaxing in their nylon folding chairs inside a rectangular, open-ended pen of yellow “caution” tape, right at the spot where a bold red sign declared: “Line Forms Here.”
But they were on different shopping missions at the Toys R Us in west Norman: Lykins for the United Methodist Church in Alex; Alvarado for Shelby, his 8-year-old daughter. Alvarado, 30, from Moore, had the edge on Lykins. He'd been sitting outside the wide glass doors since 10 a.m. for the 5 p.m. opening. He was first.
Lykins said she wasn't worried. She and her four companions were next.
“It doesn't matter,” the 63-year-old said confidently. “He's not going to go in and buy the whole store himself.”
Alvarado smiled and slyly shot back, “That's what they think — but they don't know how much money I've got.”
While not the first time to happen, the sheer number of new “Black Thursday” bargains drove thousands of Oklahomans to national retailers offering seductive steals on Thanksgiving Day. Keeping track of the openings was like following the train schedules at Grand Central Station: Toys R Us had one of the earliest at 5 p.m., Walmart braced for 6 p.m. and other stores followed with openings each hour from 7 p.m. to midnight and beyond.
Alvarado's cousin, Gerika Taylor of Moore, thought it was a “little ridiculous” that the earlier Thursday openings were taking away from family time on a national holiday. And yes, she said, she was aware that she was in line, nonetheless. But it was for a good cause that's hard to argue with.
“We're sacrificing for the kids,” she said.
Lykins and her fellow church members spread out in force Thursday for a lot of kids. This year is the fourth anniversary of the church's toy giveaway. Small bands of members separately staked out several store openings in the metro area to spend a total of $4,000 on toys for needy parents, grandparents and guardians to pick up in December.
“We do it because it's so hard for some parents not to be able to put gifts under the tree for their children,” she said.
The Thursday head-starters engaged in some of the same tactics as their Black Friday counterparts. Jesus Cortes, 34, showed up Wednesday night at the Best Buy off Interstate 240 in south Oklahoma City. With no line yet, he slept in his car. His goal was to buy two 39-inch HDTVs for $169, among other items.
“I had to stay in the car because it was too cold,” he said. “I didn't sleep too well last night.”
By 8 a.m. Thursday, Cortes had pitched his tent, with sleeping bags, outside the store doors. He and his wife were first in a line of about 200 people that snaked around the side of the building. About 20 minutes before the 6 p.m. opening, the queue ended near a Dumpster at the back of the store.
About 25 spots behind Cortes, Jorge Guzman, a 20-year-old student at Oklahoma City Community College, had been waiting about three hours Thursday. His initial plan was to snag the new Sony PS4 gaming console for his little brother. That was before he found out about a Surface tablet PC on sale for $199.
“For a college student, that's like a steal,” he said.
Thanksgiving shoppers trickled into the Belle Isle Walmart Supercenter about 5 p.m., but soon rivers of shopping carts pushed by excited deal-seekers massed in lines throughout the store before its 6 o'clock bargain shopping start.
With shoppers not wanting to miss out on deals, other waiting shoppers discussed the chain's one-hour guarantee. It basically promises customers that if they are waiting in line at the appointed hour, they'll be able to buy the merchandise at the discounted price sometime before Christmas.
Walmart spokeswoman Molly Blakeman said the company understands the frustration of waiting in line during the holiday season and found that the guarantee takes away some of the angst customers can feel during the shopping season.
“We consider this the Super Bowl of retail,” Blakeman said. “We now have seven times the number of one-hour guarantee items. … Our shoppers are smart and savvy and they're looking to find great deals for themselves and friends and family.”
Jason Stringfellow, 42, of Bentonville, Ark., and Oklahoma City's Tom Conroe, 39, walked out quickly with a portable basketball system, a basketball and a Disney Little Mermaid guitar for loved ones.
“This system really worked well for us,” Conroe said.
Meanwhile, Ruby Jones, who had just finished Thanksgiving dinner at her sister's home in Spencer, sat comfortably on a bench waiting for her daughter's buys. She said she plans to give her eight grandchildren money and a holiday card, but has her eye on a low-priced TV.
“It's a good deal, and I plan on getting myself one,” Jones said.
Katie Lewis, 23, of Oklahoma City, had just shopped with her stepmother, Hope Baugh, 36, as they pushed their full shopping cart out of Walmart. They bought a $98 carpet cleaner, folding scooters and Lego sets on sale for $15.
“It can get a little crazy and some people can have some attitude during Black Friday,” Baugh said, “but there are some really good deals, too.”
Outside of Penn Square Mall, while lines began to form before 8 p.m., Ricky Hernandez, 19, had waited for the doors to open since 6:30. He said he hoped to purchase some jewelry and a purse for his girlfriend, a Microsoft Surface tablet, as well as some gift cards.
Sitting beside Hernandez, Lorrie Pastorello, 36, of El Reno, had the same idea about buying the tablet.
“It's a good deal,” she said.