INDIAN HILLS - Petco, in the middle of Carson Valley Plaza on Topsy Lane, became a sanctuary Friday morning for holiday shoppers escaping the crowds.
"I was hit by a shopping cart at Best Buy," said Gardnerville resident Minneah Holdridge, who was one of hundreds of people who waited outside the electronic superstore at 5 a.m. in 10-degree weather. "There was a line halfway around the building."
But Holdridge found a different environment in Petco: aisles with only a few people, the musical chirping of parakeets, the smell of dog food hanging in the air.
"I wanted to see what a normal guinea pig looks like because mine is fat," Holdridge said. "I'm buying her a Christmas treat."
Besides a present for Isabel the guinea pig, Holdridge also bought her five dogs some holiday bones.
"I have a Newfoundland, two Jack Russell terriers, a border collie-Australian shepherd mix and a mutt."
South Lake Tahoe resident Trisha Peterson was looking at ferrets.
"I heard they smell a little but that you can train them to use a litter box," she said.
Peterson said she started her holiday shopping at Target at 6 a.m. but had left the crowds to look for a Christmas present for her 10-year-old son Tristan.
"He wanted a puppy, but I think he'll like a ferret," she said. "Obviously I can't hide it for month, so I'll have to come back the week before Christmas."
Sixteen-year-old Bryce Farrell of Gardnerville wasn't going to wait for his new pet. Farrell found a leopard gecko he thought would make a good partner for his 2-year-old albino gecko, Pinky.
"I've already named it Lily," he said, pointing to a glass case where the pet-to-be stood perfectly still on artificial rock, testing the air with a flicker of its tongue.
"I'm afraid that with the big Christmas rush somebody will get it unless I buy it first."
Farrell reached into the display box and pulled out the gecko, letting Lily move around on the open palm of his hand.
"Pinky won't be lonely," he said.
Petco employee Kelsey Settle said she woke up early and went to Best Buy before her shift started.
"There was a long line all the way across the building," she said. "It was the most horrible thing in the world."
Silver Springs resident Laura Thomas also started shopping early at bigger stores like J.C. Penney, and was now glad to be in Petco looking at clothes for her 4-week-old pug.
"It's calm in here," she said. "I wonder if my dog would wear a hat?"
While Thomas and others were enjoying the temporary serenity of Petco, people were flooding into Best Buy across the parking lot.
"At 7 p.m. last night, there was already a line around the building to the install bay," said Best Buy operations manager Dan Frias.
The store's general manager Marcello Rostagni said the first customer to wait in line showed up at 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving, waiting 21 hours for the store to open at 5 a.m.
"It's the most fun day of the year," said Rostagni.