If Thanksgiving day shopping was an Olympic sport, Amy Hinty would be a gold medalist.
The Ladson resident arrived at noon and was the first of about three dozen people in line at Sears in North Charleston, which opened at 8 p.m. Thursday.
Landing the coveted spot was no surprise to Hinty, 35, who has been training for competitive shopping since she was a child.
The kick-off for holiday shopping traditionally has been Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.
But many stores, especially the big-box stores, opened Thursday night this year, giving birth to what is becoming known as Gray Thursday.
And they offered special “door-buster” deals to lure people from their holiday festivities and, they hoped, the money from their wallets.
“I'm originally from Virginia and I have been training for this since I was a kid,” Hinty said. “My mom had me out when I was little doing this.”
While Hinty and her 15-year-old son waited in line, her husband brought them turkey dinners, covered in aluminum foil. But they kept their eyes on the prize — a 50-inch flat-screen TV at a bargain price.
When the doors opened at 8 p.m., the pair was in the store and out the door in six minutes, with the TV in tow.
Delighted but exhausted, Hinty decided to take a page from the athletes' playbook and soothe her aching muscles. “I'm going to go home and take a warm bath,” she said.
Sears wasn't the only store where people were lining up huddled with beach chairs and blankets.
Lines at the Best Buy in North Charleston had been forming since Wednesday. And at h.h.gregg, customers began arriving at 4 p.m. for a 10 p.m. opening.
Among the first five people was Mark Caulder. The 35-year-old Charleston resident said he was willing to stand in line for a $1,900 kitchen appliance set and an $800 washer and dryer set.
“I'm here because I bought a house and I need this,” he said. “I'm saving like $1,500 to $2,000.”
Tyler Inman of Hanahan was the first in line at Target, hoping to get a good deal on an Apple iPad advertised in the doorbuster deals. “That's the main thing,” she said.
She empathized with store workers who had to cut short their holiday festivities to get to work, but, “it's what has to be done in this economic climate,” she said.
Jessica Muse, 35, of Johns Island, was the third person in line at Toys R Us. She said she loved the stores being open on Thursday. “I'm happier about it because my husband works on Fridays, so this helps a lot and now I don't have to bring my kids with me,” she said.
Valeroso Saradpon started his shopping day earlier than most people. He stood in 45-degree air Thanksgiving morning outside the Best Buy store on Rivers Avenue and mixed a cup of instant Folgers coffee. He started comparing his overnight campout to past holiday experiences.
On Thanksgiving Day in 1966, he remembers waking at 3 a.m. to the sound of mortar fire. The Goose Creek resident, now 75, was a Navy sailor fighting in Chu Lai, Vietnam.
He recalled ducking for cover in a foxhole as enemy Viet Cong wiped out some of his battalion's ammunition cache. He made it through the attack unscathed and later enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal of all-you-can-eat steak and whiskey.
Thursday morning, he donned the same heavy green jacket he wore in Vietnam, as well as camouflage pants, as he awaited the deals in North Charleston. He didn't see the need for the steel helmet and flak jacket that he wore in battle.
On his shopping list were two laptops, two cameras, a tablet and a television.
“We're camping out just like in Vietnam,” Saradpon said. “I'm ready, man. I'm combat-ready.”
Reach Tyrone Richardson at 937-5550, Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 and Diane Knich at 937-5491.
Fifteen-year-old Julianne Gouin of Charleston and her family were among the first in line Thursday outside the Toys R Us Store on Rivers Avenue in North Charleston.×
Counter clockwise from bottom left, Jaxson Weber, Linda Weber, Michelle Gouin, Alex Gouin, Julianne Gouin and Lori Weber feast on Thanksgiving dinner leftovers as they waited in line Thursday outside Toys R Us on Rivers Avenue.×