By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
BENTON TOWNSHIP — Fernando Hernandez has spent the last five years perfecting his craft of getting a jump on Black Friday.
The St. Joseph resident pulled up to the locked doors of Best Buy around 11:30 a.m. and saw no one else.
Hernandez was waiting outside in the cold for a few hours because of a special deal on a flat-screen TV, a Canon camera and a Boost Mobile cell phone. He had not had a Thanksgiving meal yet. However, once he was done shopping he planned on driving another 2.5 hours north to Pentwater to spend time with family.
He secured the 49-inch television for $200 by default as he was first in line. Hernandez has waited outside the Benton Township Best Buy for the last five years, where he’s slowly climbed up a few spots in line. But this year was the first time he was at the very front.
Hernandez came prepared to brave the approaching winter weather. Dressed in a cap, gloves, insulated shoes and overalls, Hernandez also ran through his process on picking out the best deals.
“I do a lot of research online to see if it’s actually a deal because a lot of times a store will boost the price up and tell you it’s a deal,” Hernandez said. “There’s a website that leaks the ads for nearly every main store.”
The savvy shopper scopes out all the big box stores in advance, which includes Wal-Mart, Sears and JC Penny.
The first time he stood outside a store for Black Friday sales was for a Samsung TV. He showed up at midnight and waited until 5 a.m. But that was when Black Friday was more serious.
“I learned to dress right because I got cold the first time,” Hernandez said. “I also learned to be among the first 15 in line. A few years ago I waited in line and was too far back. Everybody got crazy. When they were handing out tickets, a guy was pulling it away from the Best Buy worker.”
After that, Hernandez said the store put in temporary gates to make a single file line leading to the doors.
Henrique Gomes is originally from Brazil, but he’s enrolled at Andrews University.
The Berrien Springs resident got to Best Buy around noon and was also waiting in line for the $200 TV. Gomes said he was there to buy a 49-inch TV for his church.
The first time Gomes took part in bargain shopping around Thanksgiving was in 2001 when he still lived in Virginia.
“It was a much simpler process. You would go get a newspaper and circle the deals while looking with your family. There was not a lot of places you could go to check prices,” Gomes said. “It was also more serious back then. People would go at 5 a.m. on Friday, but now it’s Thursday afternoon which doesn’t feel as intense.”
Gomes said he comes well dressed because he learned the hard way.
In addition to bringing a hot drink, Gomes said the idea is to keep things moving and fun.
“Have some patience. Don’t just sit down, get to know people,” he said. “You come across some nice people waiting in line. You start taking and then time flies by. If you keep thinking about it, it will take a long time for the doors (to open).”
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 25, 2016)