By the time the doors opened at Best Buy on Walton Way Extension on Friday morning, Joe Wescom had already been waiting days to take advantage of the day-after-Thanksgiving deals.
Drawing stares from shoppers, he sat in a chair, smoked cigarettes and joked with the store's employees. Wescom, who owns All Wood Box Cabinetry LLC in Augusta, was the first to enter the store at 5 a.m. Friday. By then, hundreds had formed a line that stretched to the back of the building, pining for a chance to purchase discount TVs, video games and cameras.
According to Wescom, this is the fifth year he's been first in line, and he was well prepared for the wait. By day, Wescom talked with his son and other shoppers or watched DVDs on his laptop computer. At night he slept in a tent and used a generator to power his makeshift campsite.
"I've done it long enough that I've got it down to a science," said Wescom, who arrived at the store on Tuesday.
When shoppers questioned his motives, Wescom explained the kinds of deals they could expect -- a $189 laptop computer, $349 flat screen TVs -- serving as a kind of de facto spokesman for the store.
Even though he missed Thanksgiving dinner at home (his wife brought him food), he enjoyed the time he was able to spend with his son, who is planning to join the Army and won't be able to attend next year.
When Diana Ripkey-Goodman arrived at Kohl's on Washington Road at 1 a.m. Friday to prepare for the busiest shopping day of the year, hundreds of customers were already standing in line.
"I actually had more customers waiting outside this morning than we had last year," said Ripkey-Goodman, a store manager.
The store opened at 4 a.m., one hour earlier than last year. She said that store traffic was heavier this year, and shoppers were also buying more items.
"A lot of people made two trips. They went out and came back. They felt that the lines were moving really quickly," Ripkey-Goodman said.
From big box retailers to mom and pop stores, local managers and owners said that this year's Black Friday sales were on track to beat last year's sales.
At noon, the Kmart on Washington Road was still bustling with customers.
"We probably had 400 people out there when we opened at 5. This has by far been our best one yet, and we're looking forward to the rest of the weekend. Just looking at our sales trend, we're on pace to beat last year -- and that was the best one in history," said store manager James Klugh.
Within moments, doorbuster items such as $19 pea coats, bombers, scooters and electronic items were gone, he said.
"This is a good sign on the confidence of people -- just the spending that they're doing. This isn't their only stop from what I'm hearing. This means the economy must be in a certain kind of condition that people feel that kind of confidence," Klugh said.
It was close to 5 a.m. when Laura Craft, Vanessa Snavely and Terry Buck pushed several packed shopping carts out of Target on Agerton Lane. The three women called themselves "professionals" who have been working as a team for Black Friday shopping for nine years.
Their plan? One of the women -- they are related -- gets in line right away while the other two do the shopping. They left with discounted sheets and pillows before heading out for more shopping.
"JCPenney then Staples, then breakfast and a glass of wine," said Buck, laying out their itinerary for the rest of the morning.
Store traffic at HHGregg was as busy as last year, and "busier than expected" because of the economy, said general manager Matt Blackwell.
At PeachMac on Washington Road, customers were in line at 7:30 a.m. waiting to purchase the iPad.
"It's absolutely trending to be, as we expected, the biggest day of the year. The introduction of the iPad here is absolutely causing increased sales. We may not only have a great day today, but the holiday season should be really great at PeachMac," said Josh Perkins, the director of retail operations.