The witching hour approached. Yellow CAUTION tape cordoned off the bargains and funneled a few thousand supplicants through aisles of ignored items — yarn, shower curtains, party hats, clocks. Balloons printed with dollar signs followed by low numbers floated above the treasures.
As the cell phones struck eight, a din arose. Excited voices mixed with the sound of boxes dropping into metal shopping carts. The balloons danced as people dug into stacks of leather ottomans ($29) and 5-by-5 foot bins of $5 DVDs.
The temperature climbed. An old man inched through the throng using a folding chair ($11.88) as a crutch. Traffic jammed. Complaints and a few curses echoed.
"I'm not an angry person, but I was angry for the 20 minutes I was in there," Danyel Coyne, a college student, said as she loaded a child booster seat ($12.98) into her trunk.
She and her boyfriend, Mike Yanke, had not come to shop. They needed a spare car seat to take Yanke's daughter back to Pittsburgh. Yet Yanke still had bought a red, battery-powered convertible ($129) at his dad's request.
"I wouldn't say Black Friday has taken over," said Dave Davies, a music producer who was part of the national parade of TVs (his was 50 inches and $399). "Shopping IS the holiday. That's all people care about — what are you gonna get?"
For some, the items themselves can even take a back seat to the simple act of shopping.
Childhood friends Jesse Bredholt, Ryan Seech and a few other buddies have camped out at Best Buy for four years straight. This year, they arrived a full week early, with a tent, sleeping bags, deodorizing mist sprayer, propane heater and battery power for their gadgets.
They had no idea what they would buy. That was not the point.
For this group of single men in their early 20s, part of a generation who mark the passage of time by their first cell phones and video games, the point is spending time with each other at the source of the products that have always defined their lives.
"Our family is here," said Bredholt, who works for a health-care company. "With five guys on one mattress, you gotta be family."
Karen Jefferson, 49, also has found family on line at Best Buy, beyond her husband and three children. She was there Wednesday, seated on a folding chair, clutching a rolled-up circular.
"I'm missing Thanksgiving, and my husband thinks I'm crazy," said Jefferson, who works at a mortgage insurance company. "But I do this every year . because I enjoy meeting people and the people that come when I do. I mean, you see the same people year after year. And I do get some very good deals."
What about studies that have shown better deals are available at other times of the year?
"Oh, really?" Jefferson said. "You just think, Black Friday! Oh, my gosh, that's the deal of the year."
"Maybe that's something I need to look into," she continued. "Because, I mean, if these aren't good deals, then what are we DOING then?"
Jesse Washington can be reached at http://twitter.com/jessewashington or jwashington(at)ap.org.
AP National Writer Allen Breed in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.