'Gray Thursday' shoppers battle cold to get to bargains

jmadden@herald-leader.comNovember 28, 2013 

James McNatt walks with a cane and shields his body from the blistering cold as he waits for the doors to open Thursday evening — Thanksgiving Day — at Best Buy in Lexington's Hamburg shopping district. He needs a computer because his old one caught a virus and it's become a pain.

McNatt, 62, is fourth in line outside the store and has been camping out since 7 a.m. He has a game plan.

"I do a lot of price checking," says McNatt, who is recovering from recent heart surgery. "I spot it rather quickly and tell people. He wouldn't have known if I didn't tell him."

McNatt is referring to his friend Rob Lowe, who's hoping to snag a 39-inch flat-screen television.

Lowe says he shops depending on the deals. McNatt does it every year.

Best Buy opens its doors at 6 p.m., and roughly twenty minutes later, McNatt is walking to his car with the 15-inch Dell laptop he bought for under $200. Lowe, 52, is quickly behind him, pushing his Insignia TV in a cart.

The men were two of hundreds, possibly thousands, that flooded the retail stores in Hamburg in search of electronics, clothes and toys on Thanksgiving Day. This year, the holiday was also dubbed "Gray Thursday" as retailers try to squeeze profit out of the shortened holiday season by backing up the traditional Black Friday shopping frenzy earlier into Thursday.

Ryan Yonts had been camped out at Best Buy since Wednesday night and said the cold weather has caused numbness in his feet.

"Black Friday is The Hunger Games," he said, jokingly referring to the popular books and movies in which young people fight to the death. "I had a tent, blankets, and I'm wearing three layers."

Yonts, a 22-year-old student at the University of Kentucky, said he kept warm by going back and forth to his car.

Beth Lakes is a seasoned shopper. She's done the post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping thing for nearly 10 years. "It's really an art," Lakes, 28, said. "You don't want to wear tennis shoes. You have to wear boots; they have a thicker sole."

Standing next to Lakes in Target's line to get in when the store opened at 8 p.m. was Fran Hall, another veteran shopper. Both had their eyes on a 50-inch flat-screen TV.

Hall had camped out since 1 p.m., and along the way met Lakes and her father, Jimmy Lakes.

"We're a Black Friday family," Hall said, laughing. "It was a team effort. I called my mom and she brought us ear muffs, gloves and hot chocolate."

Family indeed. Hall needed to stay at Target but also go to Wal-Mart, which was starting its deals at 6. She overheard Beth Lakes tell her dad she was headed to Wal-Mart. Hall sent her 15-year-old daughter with Lakes to get what was on her list.

"I cannot think of another time when people are so generous," Beth Lakes said of this practice of shopping on a national holiday, which she dubbed 'Blacks-giving.' "When else would you let a stranger take your child?"

Not all things were peaceful. A woman accused a Best Buy manager of putting his hands on her as he was trying to stop the line. The store was allowing about 20 people in at a time, trying not to cause a fire hazard, managers said. The police, which stepped up patrols Thursday, were called to calm the situation. No one was arrested or injured.

There were other issues. Some families had to change plans for celebrating Thanksgiving. Hall said her family ate at Golden Corral before getting in line at Target. Sunday would be the celebration day for Yonts and also the Lakeses.

Despite all the good moods, some shoppers weren't keen on giving up a holiday.

Yonts said he would prefer holiday shopping remain on Black Friday.

"Having these sales on Thanksgiving I don't like," he said. "I'd rather see them (employees) at home enjoying a day off."

Justin Madden: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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