As Valeroso Saradpon stood in 45-degree air this morning outside the Best Buy store on Rivers Avenue and mixed a cup of instant Folgers, he started comparing his overnight campout to past holiday experiences.
On Thanksgiving Day in 1966, he remembers waking at 3 a.m. to the sound of mortar fire. The Goose Creek resident, now 75, was a Navy sailor fighting in Chu Lai, Vietnam.
He recalled ducking for cover in a foxhole as enemy Viet Cong wiped out some of his battalion’s ammunition cache. But he made it through the attack unscathed and later enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal of all-you-can-eat steak and whiskey.
This morning, he donned the same heavy green jacket he wore in Vietnam, as well as camouflage pants, as he awaited Black Friday deals in North Charleston. He didn’t see the need for the steel helmet and flak jacket that he wore in battle.
On his shopping list: two laptops, two cameras, a tablet and a television.
“We’re camping out just like in Vietnam,” Saradpon said. “I’m ready, man. I’m combat-ready.”
Valeroso and 26-year-old Josh Blanton of North Charleston shared coffee and powdered doughnuts for breakfast. Missing traditional Thanksgiving meals, Blanton said, was worth the deals on a PlayStation 3 and a couple of TVs that he anticipates on Black Friday.
The half-dozen people huddled in tents outside the electronics store said they’re akin to a family in the few days they will spend together. They planned to be cordial to each other when they rush through the doors.
“We all stick together around here,” Blanton said.
“That’s right,” Saradpon added. “We were raised together, and we will fall together.”
Next door, Old Navy was one of the few retailers offering special prices on Thanksgiving Day: Buy one item, and get the second 50 percent off. Some have called the holiday sales event “Gray Thursday.”
Old Navy will re-open at midnight with three “door-buster” deals that are yet to be announced, an employee said.
Myeassah Simmons, 26, and her 5-year-old son were some of the first shoppers to walk in after the store’s 9 a.m. opening. She emerged later with some black boots she snagged for about $17.50 and a shirt.
Simmons was somewhat disappointed that she couldn’t find more things that suited her tastes, but she had high hopes for the rest of the day.
“After this, I’m going to finish cooking, then I’m getting in line at Walmart,” she said. “We need an Xbox, flat-screen TV, a laptop and toys. A bunch of toys.”
As the day wore on, more shoppers began lining up outside stores and employees began showing up for work.
Just before 4 p.m., Walmart employees at its Rivers Avenue store were moving around carts filled with Black Friday bargains as eager customers hovered outside.
At the H.H.Gregg outlet on Rivers Avenue, people began standing in line at 3:30 p.m. One woman said she skipped desert to make it to the front of the line.
About three dozen people were in line at the Toys R Us store on Rivers Avenue at 5 p.m. By 6:45 p.m., the line was snaking around the building.
Valeroso Saradpon, 75, of Goose Creek serves instant coffee to 26-year-old Josh Blanton of North Charleston as the two camped out in anticipation of Black Friday deals at the Best Buy store on Rivers Avenue.×