CHAMPAIGN – It was cold and dark out there.
The late night turkey and pie snacks were barely digested.
Barb Gustafson of Mahomet could have been home sleeping in her nice warm bed instead of freezing under a blanket outside the Champaign Kohl's store, waiting for the doors to open at 4 a.m.
But many years of bargain-hunting on this big shopping day told Gustafson to get there early, and how right she was: The long line behind her wrapped around the building like a ribbon on a gift box.
What drove folks out so early?
"There's usually one item you get for a good price," Gustafson said.
For some, this early morning post-Thanksgiving ritual has become a family tradition.
"We do it every year," said Bernita Shelato of Danville, waiting outside Kohl's with a few items on her list and their mark-down prices memorized.
Up to 128 million people across the country were expected to shop this weekend, but a survey showed many wouldn't hit the stores until they saw where the best deals were, according to the National Retail Federation.
The bargain lots of shoppers were waiting for at Kohl's was a discounted GPS system, only available in limited quantity. Still others said there were deals to be had on luggage and blankets.
At the nearby Best Buy store, the line stretching around the building for a 5 a.m. opening didn't start today.
It started Thursday, and Larry Adams of Rantoul made sure he'd be first through the doors this morning.
Adams claimed the number one spot in the Best Buy line at 11 a.m. Thursday and ate his Thanksgiving dinner (brought to him on a plate by family) outside in the cold.
He and Darryl Thompson of Champaign, who got in line behind him an hour later, both said they were willing to make the long wait for deep discounts being offered on computer equipment.
Adams thought he'd never be one of those earlybird shoppers, he said.
"I was always the one saying, 'Look at all those dingalings,'" he added.
The earliest shopping in the area today started in Tuscola, where the Tanger Outlet Center opened at midnight Thanksgiving night with a $10 discount for the first 100 shoppers and a free plush toy to the next 200.
But you had to get there hours early to get one.
"They started lining up at 10 p.m.," said Morrie Mendenhall, the outlet center's general manager. "By 12:25, we'd gone through all 300."
For a second year in a row, the midnight opening paid off big, Mendenhall said.
"It was absolutely packed. There was no place to park by midnight. They were waiting about 45 minutes to get off the interstate," he added.
Were shoppers looking or buying?
Definitely buying, Mendenhall said.
"The tenants are reporting some really strong sales, and significant increases over last year," he added.
Some diehard bargain hunters, among them Ginny and Shana Condill of Arthur, said they even did both – Tuscola first, then on to stores in Champaign.
The $10 discounts offered at Macy's and Bergner's didn't get shoppers standing outside quite so early, but the discounts were good at both stores through 1 p.m.
Bergner's opened at 4 a.m., and Macy's and most other stores at Market Place mall opened at 5 a.m.
The Champaign mall was filling up nicely in the first hour, Market Place General Manager Dennis Roberston said. Some stores even had lines waiting to get in, and were packed within the first hour.
"I'd say it's a good start to a very busy day," he added.