There may not have been a happier shopper early Friday morning than Lazaro Gomez.
Gomez took the first place in line at Target near Chandler Fashion Mall about 2 p.m. Thursday. The store opened at midnight.
Earlier in the week, he'd arrived in the East Valley with his wife from Santa Ana, Calif., because "of the deals." They stayed with his wife's brother in the East Valley.
More than 250 miles of driving and 10 hours of waiting in line later, Gomez was so excited that he got the 46" television he wanted (for $299) that he thanked the store manager, the store public relations officials and the check-out clerk.
He even hugged a reporter.
"We decided to come over here because there's a lot more people (in line) in California, 10 times more," he said just before going into the store at midnight. "I was surprised the parking lot was empty at 2 p.m. In California, the parking lot is full Thursday morning."
Thousands of people hit the stores in the East Valley Thursday night and well into Friday morning for Black Friday deals. Some skipped a Thanksgiving meal altogether. Others, like Gomez, had the food brought to them by family members.
Mild weather may have contributed to the crowds, or the earlier opening of stores.
By the time the doors opened at Chandler's Toys R Us at 9 p.m., the line was 500-shoppers long.
"This is crazy. I never thought the line would be all the way around the store. This is insane," said Jennifer Schmidt of Gilbert, who was waiting outside the store with her sister-in-law, Melinda Hatch of San Tan Valley.
"I was hoping to get out of here by 11 and get to Target," Hatch said at about 9:40 p.m. as the women were still quite a ways back.
Meghan Han and Lorenzo Hernandez of Maricopa were outside the store to buy gifts for their son. They passed the time playing on their smart phones, Hamburger Time for her and NBA Jam for him.
Han has done the Black Friday shopping trip before.
"I think midnight makes it easier because I don't have to wake up earlier," she said, noting the couple came straight from Thanksgiving dinner and dropping their son off with grandparents. "But I'll be out late."
Elizabeth Payan of Tempe stopped to chat briefly upon coming out of the store. She'd purchased electronic toys for three family members after waiting in line for about two and a half hours.
"We are very happy. It was very calm in the store," she said.
A jam packed parking lot greeted anyone arriving to Wal-Mart in Tempe about 10 p.m. Tammy Lingenfelter of Orange County, Calif., was shopping with Emily Gutierrez of Maricopa. As they walked to their car with purchases, Lingenfelter said they got most of what they were looking for, but noted it was "crazy" inside.
The well orchestrated planning of East Valley friends John Ortiz, Paul Edwards, Jason Colson and Blake Edwards landed them in the front of the line at Best Buy near Chandler Fashion Mall. They were all there for televisions and laptops.
But to be first, they'd arrived at 4 a.m. Wednesday and camped out in front of the store.
"We cooked hot dogs on our barbecue," Ortiz said. "We had laptops where we watched movies. We played poker and we slept in our tent."
By 11:45 p.m. Thursday, they were pretty happy as tickets for the items they wanted were passed out.
"You get to talking to the people around you," Colson said of the experience. "I just made sure we communicated with each other (and asked), ‘What are you after? Ok, I'll make sure you get it.' You help each other out."
Inside Chandler Fashion Mall, Jamie Larson of Chandler admitted that she and her friends use Black Friday shopping as a girls' night without kids. They'd arrived at the mall at midnight and planned to hit Scottsdale Fashion Square when it opened at 5 a.m., with a stop at Target in between.
"We did it last year," she said as her group waited outside the Disney store in hopes of getting some movies at 20 percent off. "The sales were better last year, but it's warmer this year."
Ashley Reinert of Ahwatukee Foothills had just eight hours before she needed to report to work, but she wasn't going to miss the sales, especially 50 percent off yoga pants at Victoria's Secrets.
For some, Black Friday shopping is a passing-of-the-torch family event.
Back at Target, Patrick Cunha stood outside the store with his son, Zachary, 13.
"It's kind of a tradition. I started when I was 7 with my mom, so now he does it with me," Patrick said as they waited second in line.
Zachary planned to buy a Kindle with his own money. Patrick was looking for a television. Both were planning to buy gifts for a family they adopt each year.
"It's been really well organized," Patrick said before they entered.
Michelle Reese, East Valley Tribune