Target wasn't taking any chances.

With hundreds of people waiting in line hours before its midnight opening Thursday at the Seaside Farms store in Mount Pleasant, the retailer set up a red barricade of overturned shopping carts across the front of the store to corral customers in line and keep latecomers from trying to crash through.

The line of people, braving 43-degree weather at midnight, trailed from the front door all the way across the front of the building and around the side toward Rifle Range Road. The parking lot overflowed, with shoppers finding spots on side streets and in front of other businesses in the shopping district. Beefy store security personnel and a parked police officer kept watch.

As the stroke of midnight, the store allowed 30 people inside its doors every 15 seconds to avoid a stampede.

The system worked except one woman wanted to break to the front of the line because she said she had been sitting in her car since 10 p.m. and couldn't stand on her feet very long. The staff brought her a driving cart to sit on, but they didn't immediately let her in.

Chelsea Breland and Amanda Floyd were first in line. The Mount Pleasant residents arrived at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, eager for the $298 deal the store offered on a 46-inch TV.

A few minutes after they disappeared through the front doors, they emerged with a huge box containing their coveted TV, hoisting it as they navigated through the barricade to get to their vehicle, a long line still waiting to get in.

"I shop Black Friday every year, and every year it's worth it," Breland said.

Over at Walmart, open around the clock at Wando Crossing Shopping Center, Chris Gilmore and his wife, Sarah, pushed carts filled with kitchen appliances and other items before midnight Thursday.

The Mount Pleasant couple stood in line with hundreds of other people at Best Buy in Summerville from 3 until 10:30 p.m. for a deal on 42-inch TVs, only to learn they were too far back in line to get one.

"So we decided to come back to Mount Pleasant and shop here," Chris Gilmore said.

They and others hovered over black plastic-draped piles of electronics, stood in line for TVs and sat on the floor for laptops, all of which went on sale at midnight. Yellow tape strung across aisles prevented entry to items until they went on sale, and others waited in long lines across the back of the store in the grocery section.

One man and some others joked in front of a beer display, "The beer line starts here."

The young couple, who wait for the deals every year on Black Friday, didn't like the earlier-than-ever openings.

"I hate it," Chris Gilmore said. "We had to eat Thanksgiving dinner early to get in line. It was kind of rushed this year."

Teresa Gentiluomo, 53, of West Ashley, hit the stores before midnight Thursday, saw the crowds, then drove back home and went to bed.

"It has been a mad house," she said Friday from Citadel Mall. "Walmart was awful. Nothing was organized. It was terrible. So I left there and came to Target. The line was around the building at 10 minutes until 11. I just couldn't do it. So I went home, got up early and I'm out again this morning. I did really good. I got every single thing I wanted."

In North Charleston, Best Buy portable electronics associate Danielle Bradshaw, wearing an elf hat, said people lined up for $199 flat-screen TVs beginning at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

"They pitched tents and brought coolers," Bradshaw said. "Our manager bought them pizza."

The store only had 30 TVs to sell at that price, but Bradshaw said customers came for cheap cameras and DVD players, plus free accessories. She said most of the crowd had died down by 4 a.m. Friday. By 6 a.m., traffic around the shopping centers was practically clear.

In downtown Charleston, at M. Dumas & Sons on King Street, shoppers lined up at 5:30 a.m. to get into the store at 6 a.m. Friday.

"It was a record breaker," David Dumas said. "You could hardly budge in here."

At Mount Pleasant Towne Centre, Mo Yousefzadeh of Mount Pleasant emerged from Belk laden with shopping bags before 10 a.m. "We're almost done," he said. "We're trying to help the local economy."

The National Retail Federation released a statement at mid-morning Friday declaring early openings "well worth it for both retailers and holiday shoppers," adding that strong store traffic can help power the economic recovery.

NRF estimates that holiday sales will increase 2.8 percent this year to $465 billion, and about 152 million people will shop over the long holiday weekend, up about 10 percent from last year. That's good news for retailers, many of which depend on the busy holiday shopping season for up to 40 percent of their annual revenue.

Staff members Andy Lyons, Allyson Bird, David Slade and Prentiss Findlay contributed to this story. Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524.