The sensible still were sleeping off overloads of Thanksgiving turkey, but the dedicated already were saving the peninsula economy.
"We had to leave Ninilchik at 6:30 to get here at 7:30 to get our discounts. Then, we stood in line for an hour and 45 minutes to check out," said Nadine Russo, who hit the early-bird sale at Jo-Ann Fabrics in Soldotna Friday morning. "But we all had such a good time. We were laughing and joking. It was really in the spirit of Christmas, and in the spirit of good deals."
The sale ran until 9 a.m. Clerks stamped the hands of early arrivals in green and marked those who arrived after 9 with red.
Russo said the checkout line snaked all around the store. Her traveling partner, Kathy Bundy, said another woman left the line to check her post office box -- and took orders for coffee.
"We kept her place in line," Bundy said.
Fred Meyer and Big Kmart held special sales from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. Parking spaces were few, but Gidget Donovan, buying prizes for Soldotna Little League Bingo, said the hard part was finding a shopping cart.
"We had to wait until some people left," she said. "Then the store guy would give us a cart."
Soldotna's Barbara Jacobson hit the road at 5 a.m.
"We went en masse. We hit Fred Meyer first," she said. "It was a nightmare. There were lots of people. When we pulled it, I think I was 12th in line. ... Then there was a mad rush."
Terry Rahlfs, director of the Soldotna Fred Meyer, estimated the crowd at 200 when the doors opened at 6 a.m.
"This is tradition," Jacobson said. "Even though the children are grown and gone, it's part of the season. We go to Ski-Mo's for lunch. That's tradition also. Then we go to Gottschalks. Then, we collapse -- no, then we have to go to the crafts fair at the high school. Then we start decorating inside and out."
Jacobson said she has lights, a Nativity scene, reindeer, Mr. and Mrs. Santa and more. Once those are up, she said she planned to spend the weekend making cookies with a friend.
"We're going to try to beat our record last year. We made 96 dozen cookies," she said. "We feed them to her husband all year long."
A television, CD rack, CDs, cookie tins, cases of Pepsi and coffee filled her cart at Big Kmart. No matter. A boxed bookcase overhung its lower shelf by a couple of feet. She piled more goods on that.
"We're working on cart No. 2," she said.
Anchorage resident Mary Kardonsky said she went to the Kenai Big Kmart after a Thanksgiving dinner with family in Homer.
"It's a tradition. We've been up since 5 a.m.," she said. "We do the early-bird specials and get a head start on Christmas shopping.
"We went to Gottschalks first, then we came here. We planned our routine the day before."
After lunch, she planned to visit the crafts fair at Kenai Central High School.
"It's just the joy of the Christmas season and the companionship of my granddaughter," she said. "We leave the fellows at home to watch TV and the games and go shopping."
There were not many men in department store aisles.
"This isn't my gig. You think I'd be here?" said Charles Lesperance of Kasilof, seen with his wife at Gottschalks. "It's sore muscles, sore ankles, sore feet and lots of money spent. We started pretty early, about 7. We've been to Kmart, Fred Meyer and here. Now, hopefully, we're going to lunch."
Alone in the Kmart auto accessory aisle, Randy Clavell said he was wasting time, waiting for his wife.
"It's kind of funny," he said. "We live in Wasilla. We're going to drive through Anchorage on the way home tomorrow, and she has to shop here."
Linda Newland, Gottschalks manager, said it is still too early in the season for the men.
"I had one man in here. He bought a mixer and left," she said. "The guys won't come until December -- the last week before Christmas, usually."
It also is too early to judge the strength of the holiday shopping season, she said. However, Gottschalks did not open until 7 a.m. on Friday, Newland said, and she did not expect a crowd until about 8:30, when early shoppers had finished at Fred Meyer and Kmart.
"But we had people waiting in the parking lot when I opened the doors. It's crazy. It's been busy from the minute we opened," she said.
Rahlfs also said he saw more shoppers early than he did last year. Often, listing the right items in sale ads makes the difference, he said.
In addition, the weather was warm this year, improved from bitter cold last year. Still, he said, strong sales Friday morning could indicate a strong holiday season for area retailers.
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