Jimmy Chabert, a retired crane operator from St. Charles Parish, grew up hunting deer, ducks and rabbits around Lake Salvador.
And on Wednesday night, he put his years of experience staking out prey in the cold fall air to good use as he stalked yet another elusive target: the rare and wily flat-screen color television set.
At 50 inches corner to corner, the Sharp 4K Ultra HD had been deeply discounted for the holidays and was holed up in the Best Buy electronics store on Veterans Boulevard at Interstate 10 in Metairie.
But word had gotten out, and Chabert wasn’t alone. He wasn’t even first in the line of a few dozen hopeful shoppers stretched across the front of the store. But by having the fifth and sixth chairs from the front door, he and his daughter, Mindy McPhail, were guaranteed to leave with what they came for.
“It’s no different,” Chabert joked at midday Thursday, about 15 hours after arriving the night before. “You gotta put up with the cold when you’re out there (hunting) and when you’re out here.”
He still had several hours to go before the store opened at 5 p.m.
Chabert spent the night clad in his cold-weather, camouflage-patterned hunting clothes and slept the first three hours in his chair, watching the Norwegian disaster film “The Wave” to pass the time.
“I woke up at 3 (a.m.) and I was all alone,” he said.
The others had gone to their cars to sleep through the night as the temperature dipped into the 40s.
“He was all geared up,” laughed Jamal Sutherland, offering up a defense for those less hardy souls not quite dressed for the deer stand.
Sutherland, of Algiers, and his sister managed to snag the second and third spots, though they had to show up at 8 p.m. Wednesday to get them.
Thanksgiving dinner, he said, would just have to wait until the evening, a small sacrifice for the money they would save on the 50-inch TV, which was selling for $179, down from $499.
“That’s a week’s pay for some people,” Sutherland said.
The two siblings passed the time chatting, occasionally getting up to stretch their legs. “We’ve probably taken four or five naps,” Sutherland said.
The communal rules in the Best Buy line allowed folks to hold their place with a chair. Between Chabert and Sutherland stood a fluorescent orange construction cone with a folded-up chair over the top of it. Chabert said that was for a customer who set it up early Wednesday night and hadn’t been back since, though another man dropped by Thursday afternoon to see if it was still there.
Chabert said he didn’t mind that someone was getting a spot in line without sticking it out.
“As long as I get a TV, I don’t care,” he said. “As long as he doesn’t show up with 40 people, I don’t mind.”
Sutherland said he’d probably do some Christmas shopping Friday, though not of the door-busting, 5 a.m. variety.
“Tomorrow will just be whenever,” he said, “because that stuff won’t be this hot,” he said, pointing at the sales flyer.
Chabert and McPhail said the lines were nowhere near as long Thursday as they have been in past years, when they sometimes stretched around the corner.
The Toys R Us store nearby on Veterans, which was scheduled to open at 5 p.m. Thursday, still had no line just before 3 p.m., despite having an area cordoned off for customers. There were lines to get into JCPenney, which opened at 2 p.m. at Lakeside Mall.
The holiday shopping season begins in earnest on Black Friday, so-named because it was traditionally the day when many national retailers would begin turning a profit for the year, putting their balance sheets "in the black."
Outside of the nearby Target, where fewer than a dozen shoppers sat behind a metal barricade that stretched to the end of the building, Mindy Geiger, of Harahan, said there are nowhere near as many people lining up for deals this year.
Geiger, who works in a nearby law office, said none of the must-have items this year were on sale.
She and Jared Fowler, a Metairie CPA waiting to get a gift for his son, agreed that online sales are the main culprit.
“Why sit out here in the cold when you can do it in your home?” Fowler said.