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Camp-N for Chick-N

People assemble Wednesday in the parking lot of the new Chick-fil-A restaurant on S.C. 160 in Fort Mill. The group were camping overnight to get free food coupons when the restaurant has its grand opening this morning. The first 100 customers are to receive a coupon book good for 52 free combo meals.
People assemble Wednesday in the parking lot of the new Chick-fil-A restaurant on S.C. 160 in Fort Mill. The group were camping overnight to get free food coupons when the restaurant has its grand opening this morning. The first 100 customers are to receive a coupon book good for 52 free combo meals.

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.

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."

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