Dad survives Black Friday

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

My wife has been doing it for years, sneaking out of the house in the blackness of early morning on the day after Thanksgiving so she can get a jump on Christmas shopping.

Of course, she isn't alone. Countless Americans embrace the holiday tradition known as Black Friday. The name alone seemed depressing to me.

Joni said it was a good name, reflecting the fact that hard-core shoppers camp out in the dark for the opportunity to be among the first to grab up those Christmas retail bargains.

I thought the name reflected the nightmare day that store clerks faced each year in dealing with the hordes of shoppers.

As it turns out, Black Friday is a welcome phrase for retailers. It indicates the date when sales put retailers into the black.

Through all our years of marriage, I had managed to avoid the crazed crowds. Last year, I told my wife I would go shopping on Black Friday. But it didn't happen. I slept right through it.

This year, I was determined to be true to my word. I took off from work and made a firm commitment to go shopping with Joni.

This time, I followed through with my promise. Joni and I got up early and headed to Best Buy.

I looked at the dashboard clock in our van. It read 3:30. The streets seemed nearly deserted. Maybe most people were sleeping in.

Wow, was I wrong.

We turned into the Best Buy parking lot only to be greeted by a sea of parked cars and a long line of shoppers. The line extended past the front of the building and an adjacent restaurant and snaked around the side of the parking lot.

"We should have gotten here earlier," Joni said.

I was amazed. I thought we were doing well to be at the store an hour and a half before it opened. But, as it turned out, we were among the late arrivers.

One shopper spent 13 chilly hours camped out in a lawn chair in order to be the first customer to get in the door.

In all, more than 1,000 people waited for the store to open at 5 a.m. People stood in line, some sipping coffee to keep warm. Others brought along copies of the store's newspaper circular, searching for bargains.

At one point, a store employee walked down the long line of shoppers to announce that the store, because of fire codes, could allow only 750 shoppers in at one time. The news elicited a groan from some of the shoppers near the end of the line.

Fortunately, Joni and I were among the first 750 shoppers.

With a rush of adrenaline, we entered the store. Every aisle was packed with shoppers, many of them already holding stacks of DVDs and assorted electronic merchandise.

We managed to get out of the store without going bankrupt. We visited several more stores, including Target where every parking space seemed filled. Inside, the aisles were packed with eager buyers.

The whole city seemed to have been invaded by an army of guerrilla shoppers intent on filling up their vans with toys, computer games and other assorted items before the first morning light.

I figured maybe I should have worn a helmet. I didn't want to end up in the middle of a shoppers' riot.

Fortunately, that didn't happen. Most shoppers I met seemed in a good mood.

Checking out was the biggest problem. At Target, the checkout lines extended across the main aisle and down between rows of clothes. Other lines snaked around the store.

After our predawn shopping spree, Joni had to go to work. A veteran shopper like Joni can manage such a feat.

I went home to sleep, tired but proud that I had made it through the Super Bowl of shopping.

Mark Bliss is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: