Gobbling up bargains: Holiday shopping kicks into high gear in South Florida

For Miami Herald.

BY INA PAIVA CORDLE, THEO KARANTSALIS AND CRYSTAL CHEW

Hector Perez camped out for more than 29 hours at Best Buy, to be first in line to snag a 50-inch Panasonic TV for $199, speakers and a tablet.

“Between all that, I’ll save 500 bucks,” said Perez, 32, of Westchester, who arrived at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday to await the store’s 5 p.m. opening on Thanksgiving. “So it’s worth it.”

Nearby, Natalie Leon and her fiancé Leonardo Gonzalez had gotten in line at 6 a.m. on Thursday to get the same doorbuster TV and a GoPro camera.

“We’re getting married in June, so it’s the first TV for our new apartment, and the GoPro camera is for our honeymoon” — a weeklong cruise in the Caribbean, said Leon, 23, of Westchester.

Across South Florida, the holiday shopping season kicked into high gear on Thanksgiving Day, as many stores paraded their wares in a flurry of doorbusters, deals and discounts. At some stores, lines snaked around buildings hundreds-thick, as shoppers salivated — for deals.

Maura Herrholz left her turkey in the oven to run to Old Navy at the Shops of Dadeland with her two daughters and a family friend, in hot pursuit of sweaters, jeans and T-shirts.

“We popped in to take advantage of sales,” said Herrholz, of Kendall. Everything in the store was 50 percent off.

At Toys“R”Us in Hialeah, more than 100 shoppers were lured away from dinner by more than 200 doorbuster deals at 5 p.m.

“I have to have these LEGOs for my son,” said Michelle Gonzalez, 27, a medical assistant, who put her turkey in at noon before getting in line. “It’s cooking now on low and should be ready when I get back.”

Heralding the start of the season, Best Buy Tropicaire General Manager Jorge Alicea and his staffers cheered when the doors opened, in anticipation of the onslaught.

“This is our Super Bowl every year,” Alicea said. “The game is on. It’s busy. It’s a lot of fun. The days go by fast. This is what we prepare for all year.”

Outside, new friendships bloomed, as shoppers bonded, laughed and held each others’ places in line. Alex Godoy, 32, joked that his family “left me here alone,” since 6 a.m., with a mandate to bring home a TV. Leon said she and her fiancé had adopted him.

“We’ve become a family,” Leon said. “If not, this would have been boring.”

The Thanksgiving shopping frenzy in South Florida points to what experts predict will be a relatively robust season, spurred by an improving economy, rising stock market, job growth and lower gas prices.

Buoyed by tourists and seasonal residents, retail sales in November and December are expected to jump 5 percent in Florida, above the 4.1 percent national forecast, the Florida Retail Federation said. It would be the biggest projected increase since 2008.

This year, the average person celebrating the holidays is expected to spend $804.42, according to the National Retail Federation.

Inside Best Buy in Westchester, Cousins Alvaro Mendez, 35, and Gabriel Orosco, 30, piled up their baskets with a dozen laptops and 10 Chromecasts. “We’re just beginning,” said Mendez, who was buying inventory to sell for Christmas at their store in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. It was the cousins’ sixth annual shopping trip to Miami.

In Broward, Sanya Houston, 42, was first in line at hhgregg in Pembroke Pines, in a queue that swelled to more than 100 people before the store opened at 4 p.m. Her goal: to save $350 on a stainless steel refrigerator, discounted to $699.

“This is only a one-time thing for me and only because I have a need,” said Houston, of Miramar. “I might even buy a stove.”

Not far away, Robyn Weiniger, of Coral Springs, lined up outside of Tory Burch at Sawgrass Mills in Sunrise, on a mission to splurge on herself.

“This is my ‘congrats’ for surviving the hardest year of my life,” said Weiniger, 24, who got into a car accident, moved, graduated Florida International University and had to adjust to a new job.

To make their waits more comfortable, some shoppers brought portable chairs, blankets and other gear. Sukjoon Hwang, 23, and Youngwan Kim, 25, English students from South Korea, slept on Styrofoam boxes in the Best Buy line in Westchester.

“It will be a good memory,” joked Hwang, who wanted to get a pair of headphones, while Kim planned to buy a tablet. Electronics are more than double the price in Korea — including Korean brand products, made in Korea, they said.

In search of bargains, many shoppers said they delayed their Thanksgiving feasts, opting to shop first.

“Thanksgiving dinner is going to be in front of a 50-inch TV,” said Jhonne Alexandre, 26, of Miami.

At Dolphin Mall late Thursday afternoon, hundreds bundled up in parkas and sweaters, as holiday music greeted shoppers arriving in the atrium.

“It is 40 percent off at Armani Exchange,” said Tito Chavez, 27, an auto mechanic from Doral. “I told my family to have a few extra cocktails and I’ll be back.”

Still others just decided to forgo the feast altogether.

“This is all about priorities,” said Fannie Baez, 39, an insurance salesperson, who spent an unusually cold night outside Best Buy in Hialeah wearing a Winnie the Pooh outfit to stay warm. “Either a turkey or a TV.”

Baez, third in line, managed to block out tires screeching and horns honking along the nearby Palmetto Expressway. Though the rest of her family returned home at 3 a.m. to sleep, she said she just couldn’t take her mind off getting a Panasonic 50-inch television for $199.

“Look at me,” Baez joked. “I don’t need the turkey right now anyway.”

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