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Bargain Hunters Flood Malls, Stores to Launch Holiday Buying Season

Retailing: Thousands countywide descend on centers, some as early as 5 a.m. Full lots and long lines are the norm.


By Friday afternoon it looked like an army had swept through Esprit in Camarillo. Black bags were scattered along the floor, shoe boxes lay empty and assorted garments were flung in chaotic heaps.

But that was just half the battle for these young, bargain-hunting warriors. Now came the three-hour wait in the long, tired line to cash in on the 40% discount.

Could anything be worth this hassle?

Mary Anne Delictura, 33, of Glendale started to say no, then looked at a cart full of bags she had picked up for $17--regular price $35--and reconsidered.

"It's hard but it's like when you finally get out you're happy that you got such a good deal," she said.

It was this annual motivation to save a few bucks that sent thousands of shoppers to Ventura County malls and retail stores as early as 5 a.m. Friday--the day after Thanksgiving and traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year.

By 9:30 a.m., Pacific View Mall in Ventura had more than 5,000 shoppers, said Alice Love, marketing director for the mall. Other stores such as Target and Mervyn's in Ventura were besieged with shoppers, and Camarillo Premium Outlets reported a 10% increase in shoppers from last year's 50,000.

Some places, such as Kay-Bee toy shop in Pacific View, opened its doors at 5 a.m. but kept a tight leash on customers, only letting a handful in at a time to keep the frenzy to a minimum. Bear Perez, 31, a store employee, looked like a bouncer at a private club as he let small groups of shoppers into the store.

"I think we started doing this during the Furby craze," Perez said, referring to the small, talking, fuzzy animal toys. "At least they are not trying to kill each other any more."

A slight sense of panic filled the air as popular items such as Betty Spaghetti and Poo-chi, the interactive puppy, were swept off the shelves.

"Do you have a six-pack of Barbie clothes?" an earnest Joel Katz asked a Kay-Bee employee.

Before hitting the toy store, Katz, 47, loaded up on half-priced shirts at Sears. At Kay-Bee he snagged the last game of "Trouble" and some doll paraphernalia for his 6-year-old daughter. His 21-year-old son, he said, is easy because "he only wants cash."


"I do it every year while my wife cleans the house," the Ventura man said, dragging a giant plastic bag full of toys behind him. "Now I'm all done."

To better deal with the crowds, the mall this year hired a valet parking service, which charged $4 to park customers' cars.

Ray Chaparro of Oxnard happily forked over the money.

"It is a madhouse out there," Chaparro said. "They are fighting over spaces. I think it's worth spending the money."

Sean Doran, owner of Thousand Oaks-based Premium Valet, said some shoppers were angry his service had reserved about 60 spaces for paid parking.

"Either people love it or hate it," he said.

Finding parking was even a bigger headache at Camarillo Premium Outlets, where lines of cars moved like snails trying to find any available spot.

Ventura County sheriff's deputies were on hand to cite anyone considering pulling up beside a fire hydrant or steering their cars into illegal areas.

Lyz Klopman, assistant general manager of the Camarillo center, said it was the biggest day of the year for the outlet stores and would very likely remain busy until Christmas.

"It seems heavier this year," she said. "A lot of people are local but many are coming from Los Angeles and Orange County."


At Esprit, regional manager Tracy Blazejewski said she expected 5,000 customers during the day and thought she would sell 10,000 units of merchandise.

"We have people working at 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. who will refold everything and put it back in place," she said.

Chris Dumont, West Coast regional manager for Versace, said people from all over the world come to his store for the annual sale.

"In contrast to last year, we are running way above in sales," he said. "Most of our customers come from the Los Angeles and Orange County area."

Anyone wanting a shimmering, gold metal dress could have had it at Versace for a considerable discount. Normally $13,000, the dress was going for $3,000. Other sales included $2,000 and $3,000 suits selling for $400 and less.

In Thousand Oaks, shoppers swarmed The Oaks mall, juggling wish lists, newspaper ads and multiple department store bags.

Thousand Oaks grandmother Irene Sansam was waiting to shop for nine family members, most of them children, when the mall's doors opened at 7 a.m.

"It sort of gets you in the Christmas spirit," she said, holding half a dozen bags in one hand while browsing men's belts with the other.

"It helps to be early," she said.

Rhonda Harris, 37, of Ojai is a pro when it comes to the day after Thanksgiving. Last year she made her way across Ventura County and hit a number of malls and specialty stores from 6 a.m. to midnight.

"I do it every year," Harris said. "You do get a lot done and I've got 25 people to shop for."

But while some went for bulk, others knew exactly what they wanted and slid in and out of the madness quickly.


Newbury Park resident Rick Stanton, 45, popped into the mall to get some extra savings on the "premiere gift" for his wife despite her warnings the crowds would be overwhelming.

But he has been preparing for the purchase for a week, he said, having taken time off from work, relentlessly surfing the Internet and annoying friends for advice.

"I'm not a big shopper, but when I do it I'm focused and intense," he said. "I'm very excited. Many times I've gone at the last minute. This is the first time I had a strategy."


Correspondent Jenifer Ragland contributed to this story.

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