Earl Lyons set his sights on Lego sets for his 7-year-old son. The Thousand Oaks real estate investor -- who also planned to buy the boy a guitar, a Microsoft Xbox and a Nintendo Wii -- said he and his wife typically spend a couple thousand dollars each on their two children, and they're not cutting back this year. Rents from his tenants are still coming in, he said.
But many consumers are trimming their spending this year. That's why Maria Ramos was searching for bargains Friday at the Wal-Mart at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza in L.A.
"I need to take advantage when the prices are low so I can buy my Christmas gifts," said the Los Angeles resident, who cleans a building in Beverly Hills. She collected Barbie dolls, a jacket and a coffee maker and was in line for a digital camera.
Bargains motivated consumers, but so did the notion of stampeding to stores the day after Thanksgiving. In fact, it has become a tradition for some families.
"No one's waiting here out of necessity," said Robert Stucken, 52, a college professor who was in line at Fry's with his 24-year-old son, Joe. "It's all supplemental to their lives. It's just fun because it's kind of like a cult and a bonding opportunity."
Another father-son team -- Milton and Greg Gee -- was first in line at a Best Buy store in San Francisco, having arrived at 8 a.m. Thursday with four of Greg's pals.
"I've been doing this for five years and it's the third time I've been first in line," said Milton Gee, a San Francisco resident who repairs telephone lines.
That's the enthusiasm retailers are hoping for as they navigate the November-December shopping period, during which they typically collect 20% to 40% of the year's revenues.
Though the so-called Black Friday weekend isn't necessarily a tip-off to how sales will play out over the rest of the season, it's important to consumer electronics chains. The nickname is linked to a retail myth that the Friday after Thanksgiving is the day retailers begin making profits and move into the black.
Normally, David Leal wouldn't be in stores this early in the season. But at 5:30 a.m. Friday, the Daly City, Calif., resident was pushing a cart laden with DVDs, a wine cooler, a camcorder and a digital camera through the Best Buy in San Francisco. The 22-year-old bartender had scoured the Internet for shopping tips and compared store lines.
After selecting his target at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Leal ate his Thanksgiving dinner in line. When he was done at Best Buy, Leal planned to head to Office Max and CompUSA.
"I usually shop the last week before Christmas," Leal said. "If I can get it done all in one day, it'll be worth it."
Earnest and Hsu reported from Southern California and Chang from the San Francisco Bay Area. Times staff writers Paloma Esquivel, Victoria Kim, Daniela Perdomo and Jesus Sanchez in Southern California contributed to this report.