FORT MILL -- Shane Wallace's zeal for Chick-fil-A may border on obsession.
Consider he spent 45 hours waiting in a parking lot for a chance to win a year's worth of free food at the popular restaurant's Fort Mill grand opening, and you could say he has a mild addiction.
"If it's free, then it's for me," the 22-year-old Fort Mill resident said Wednesday afternoon. "This is my chance to have a free meal and not cook once a week for a year."
Wallace was one of more than 100 crazed campers who braved 20-degree temperatures overnight at the new Baxter Village Chick-fil-A in front of Lowe's off S.C. 160. The campers planned to be the first 100 customers at the new restaurant. With that honor comes a book of coupons for 52 free combo meals at Chick-fil-A.
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Wallace arrived at the store at 9 a.m. Tuesday and camped in his car next door until 6 a.m. Wednesday, when he was allowed to set up camp in the parking lot. He and the other campers aren't allowed to leave until 6 a.m. today if they want to claim the prize.
"It is almost a cult following," Mike Crosby, operator of the new restaurant, said about what has become a Chick-fil-A tradition, not to mention a smart marketing scheme. "It's almost like the Dead Heads for the Grateful Dead."
By 3 p.m. Wednesday, 82 campers already had pitched tents, many of them traveling from out of town.
Peggy DeBerry of New Bern, N.C., was attending her 19th campout in a little over two years. In that time, she has attended grand openings from Virginia to Florida. That totals up to more than 900 free meals.
"I eat here about once a week, so I distribute the rest of them," DeBerry said. "I got grandkids."
Across the parking lot, Brian Isbell and Ricky Byrd of Charlotte sat in lawn chairs waiting on a friend to bring a por-table generator. This was their second Chick-fil-A campout, and they weren't going to bed without a heater.
Julie Tipton, a clever woman from Huntersville, N.C., set up camp next to the generator crowd. She arrived in Fort Mill at 9 a.m. with a car full of supplies.
"I had three people who pooped out on me because it was too cold, but my car was already loaded, so I came anyways," she said. "I have a starving son in Indiana. I have to send him coupons."
Chick-fil-A marketing staffers had activities planned to keep the crowd busy, including a deejay, games and giveaways through the night.
"This might be the craziest thing I've ever done," Wallace said. "But you name it, I like getting it if it's free."