On Thanksgiving Day, as thousands across the New Orleans area devoured roasted turkey and its fixings, Dwanda Kinebrew stretched her legs near the Best Buy on Veterans Boulevard near Interstate 10.
It was 2:30 p.m. She had been outside the store — first in her car and then in a folding chair — for more than 22 hours.
“We slept in the car,” she said, pointing to herself and two companions. Arriving at 7 p.m. Wednesday was worth it, she said: They were first in line.
Kinebrew is one of more than 200 people who showed up at Best Buy a day ahead of Black Friday to participate in a phenomenon some have dubbed Gray Thursday or Black Friday Eve. Retailers have opened their doors earlier in the hope of squeezing more profits out of what is generally their busiest weekend of the year.
Opening time Thursday at Best Buy was 5 p.m. But the excitement was palpable long before then, as dozens slept in their cars, made use of two portable toilets in the store’s parking lot and had relatives and friends bring them Thanksgiving Day plates as they waited in a steadily growing barricaded line.
Almost everyone at the head of the line — Kinebrew included — was on the hunt for a 49-inch, $149.99 Toshiba flat-screen television, marked down from $429.99.
The farther back one walked, the more the stories swirled about the TV’s alleged availability.
“I heard there were only 26,” said Jim Clinton, who stood about a dozen spots behind Kinebrew and who got there at 3:30 a.m.
Someone else, farther to the back, said there had to be at least 100, given the number of people who showed up.
Despite the demand, there was no pushing or shoving. Most ahead of the line already knew the protocol: first come, first served. A limited number of tickets for popular items such as the TV are handed out in the hour before the store’s opening to whomever is in line and has the money to pay, employees said. Once the tickets are gone, they’re gone.
It’s a process general manager Jason Marx says works well. “We’re one of the most organized retailers there is.”
To keep things organized, it’s all hands on deck for Best Buy employees, who Marx said have been prepping for Black Friday weekend for two weeks. It’s become somewhat of a norm for Best Buy, which has opened on Thanksgiving Day for a few years now.
When tickets are finally distributed about 4 p.m., only 25 customers actually get one for the coveted TVs. Out of luck is Christelle Daniels, who drove from Jackson, Mississippi, to visit family and come to Best Buy.
“That was false advertising,” she accused loudly, as Marx walked by with a pamphlet of other items on sale. “We’ve been standing out here for two hours.”
Still, she perused the pamphlet to see if something else was worth her time.
Clinton and Kinebrew — who both showed up the night before — landed the coveted ticket.
A few minutes before 5 p.m., the Best Buy team gathered for their pre-opening huddle. Marx stood next to his assistant general manager, listening intently into his earpiece to make sure everything is in order when the doors finally open.
Seconds later, Kinebrew walked through the door. The Best Buy employees clapped.
She laughed. “Where my gift at?” she said jokingly, before walking over to the televisions in the back.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.