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Crowds a block long stand outside Best Buy in Willmar before the store opened at 5 a.m. Shoppers were looking for bargains during Black Friday, signaling the start of the Christmas shopping season. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

Early morning shoppers on the prowl for the best bargains

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news Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- With a tough economy and fewer dollars to spend, shoppers were looking for bargains during the mad rush of Christmas shopping known as Black Friday.

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It was obvious that many scored. Big time.

"I saved like $150," said Greg Francis, 16, of Willmar, who was grinning from ear-to-ear after just purchasing a new entertainment system from Best Buy.

Of course he did pay in other ways for that deal.

Francis and his friend, Daniel Larson, 17, of Willmar, had been standing outside the store since 2 a.m., waiting for the doors to open at 5 a.m.

"My toes are still numb," Larson said.

Early morning temperatures were in the 20s with a brisk southeast wind.

The nip didn't stop people from lining up outside Target.

Sarah Miller, who's from Albertville and visiting relatives in Willmar, was bundled in a sleeping bag on the sidewalk for two hours before the doors opened at 5 a.m.

"It was worth it. I got what I wanted," said Miller, who said she saved $250.

Virginia Danielson and Kandice Halvorson were just a few feet away from the door at Menards, waiting for the store to open at 6 a.m. They'd been there since 4:30 a.m., cuddled under fleece blankets. Their goal was to get two small laptop computers for Halvorson.

Less than 10 minutes after the store opened, Halvorson was at the check-out counter paying for her two laptops.

When asked if she was going home to sleep, she shook her head. "No, I've got a bit of a buzz now." She was spotted about two hours later going into Herberger's, still looking for bargains.

Store managers seemed pleased with the early rush of activity.

"It's pretty amazing, since we don't open until six," said Bill Woelfel, outside yard manager at Menards, as he looked down the line of people that was so long they disappeared into the early-morning darkness at the end of the parking lot.

The crowd was "a little more than in past years," he said, adding that the entire staff was on hand to make sure everything went smoothly. "There's not a person that got off today."

Betty Jones, store manager at Wal-Mart, said they were a lot busier this year than last year.

She estimates there were about 6,000 people that came into the store in the first 1 ½ hours. "If today's the start of the holiday season, then I'm very optimistic."

Jones said the poor economy is the reason why there were so many people out on Black Friday. "This is the time they can save money," she said. "Your money goes further this day probably more than any other day. The savings are definitely worth it."

LCD and plasma TVs and gaming systems were the hot items, she said.

Experienced shoppers, like Melinda Paulsrud of Benson, who had a list and schedule ruled the roost when it came making the most of the day. She got to Willmar by 3:25 a.m. and headed to the Kandi Mall where the journey began and ended.

"We got here and we stood in line outside of Sears, they opened 4 a.m. we were in line about ½ hour and then we quick got in our vehicle and ran to Wal-mart. We sat in line there for 55 minutes then we quick jumped in the truck ran across over to Menards. We got their right when the doors opened, ran in, bolted to the back, got our stuff there got in line. By quarter to seven we were here at the mall. We went to Kmart, just got done there and now we're checking the smaller store," said Paulsrud, in a running commentary that made one tired just to hear it.

Paulsrud got everything she wanted and saved hundreds of dollars. "I'm not a big shopper and I don't like to come out in big crowds. But this year I felt it was worth it."

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