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Black Friday Indeed

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Posted 11-29-2008 at 12:09 PM by Jeff Westover

For years I've been one of the masses who descend upon stores on Black Friday.

I rarely, if ever, made a purchase.

My purpose in venturing out has been to visit those employees I have who draw the unlucky assignment to work in malls opening as early as midnight and to merely people-watch. I always considered it more of a professional endeavor than a personal outing. I wanted to see what the consumer was going to do for Christmas and Black Friday has never failed to deliver for me.

In years past, I have been amused mostly by the crowds on Black Friday.

A few years back one of my stores had to open at 12:01 a.m. because the mall was having a "Shop til you Drop" promotion that had stores open for nearly 24 hours the day after Thanksgiving.

That event, widely advertised on radio and television here locally in Utah, brought almost 10,000 to one single mall. It took more than 45 minutes for me to walk -- shoulder to shoulder -- from the mall entrance to our storefront. The event was marred by trampled people, stolen merchandise, fights and raucous kids literally chasing older people from the mall.

It was a stunning and eye-opening event in that this particular mall has never been known to draw that kind of crowd (not the numbers, but the TYPE of people who showed up).

With nowhere else to go on a dark Thanksgiving evening, where else were the hoods to go?

The community and the mall learned a lot from that experience. They repeated the event the next year and it was much better. Police presence helped to direct traffic, they had portable restrooms outside for the crowds, heated tents for those in line to wait under and a ticket system for those lined up for hot deals in the stores.

The downturn in the economy killed the event this year. The mall and the city both said the expenses were just too great to justify the party. So Black Friday this year was an event held without area malls opening before 7:00 a.m.

And that is likely a good thing.

I don't know if it is the result of a down economy or what -- but Black Friday this year was brutal.

My children -- five of them, at least -- all vowed to go with me this year and as we gathered at 4:00 a.m. I had to wonder what kind of memory would be made.

We drove by Best Buy. We had been there the night before Thanksgiving to make a purchase and we saw folks already there pitching their tents in line to await the 5:00 a.m. Friday opening.

I asked the lead guy in line what the deal was for him: a flat screen television, he told me.

I told him what I had gone through a year before at that very Best Buy on the day before Thanksgiving when I purchased my flat screen. I found what I wanted, showed them the ad of their friday deal and they adamantly insisted that I had to wait in line. I told them that if they didn't sell it to me at the sale price then I would go to a competitor who would price adjust it for me on Friday anyway -- at any time I went in. Best Buy sold me the television.

The man in line looked a me for a minute, as if processing the information. Then he went into the store (he got his television at his price too, and took his tent down).

So as I headed out with the kids I fully expected this Black Friday to be like any other.

At first, it was. Two of my kids wanted to go to Wal Mart, a location I totally avoid on Black Friday, especially when the bells rings.

My experience in that crowd is never good. Wal Mart is the big leagues of Black Friday madness. Crowds show up and they are aggressive. Wal Mart, to their credit (?) has the best deals in town. But not on this day.

I went with my other children next door to Sam's Club. We got there about 15 minutes before they opened and we were maybe the 20th in line. Never in my life had I been that close to the front door on Black Friday.

I had no idea what they had on sale.

We had been there for a few minutes before a Sam's Club employee started handing out tickets for the hot deals they had advertised. Who wants the Nikon camera? Who is here for the Samsung LCD TV? Who wants the deal on the Wii?

Wii?

I raised my hand. I had been contemplating the whole Wii thing a few weeks back. In fact, I was in Costco with my hand on a whole stack of them maybe two weeks before. As I debated the purchase the entire pile of them evaporated before my eyes as the store made an announcement. I couldn't believe it.

So the doors opened and since those in line all had tickets for their most wanted items there was no rush. In the time I was there maybe another 40 people lined up behind us. But nobody pushed or shoved.

We gathered up our purchases, including the Wii, checked out and met up with the other kids.

They were panting. My son had been trampled standing next to a display of DVDs.

"That was wild, Dad," my wry 16 year old told me. "I never want to go back in there."

Well, I was going over there. Wal Mart had bluray DVDs for sale and I figured the crowds were intent on everything except those.

Wrong. I walked in maybe ten feet before I hit the wall of people. I stood up on the bottom rung of a shopping cart and looked over a sea of people. It was like standing over a mosh pit. I didn't see one square inch of empty floor space.

Deciding the discount didn't warrant the wear and tear on my body, I turned around and left. A security guard laughed at me, completely understanding.

On my way back to the car, I fought other cars trying to get into the parking lot. There was no mercy for poor pedestrians. You had to get out of the way or you would get run over.

Later that day, the news told the story of a Wal Mart employee trampled to death in the rush of a greedy mob on Long Island, NY.

In Palm Desert, California, at the Toys R Us I used to shop at now and then when we lived there, two men got into a dispute over an item, pulled out guns and shot each other.

Stories abound locally and nationally of other violence and crowd misbehavior on Black Friday 2008.

It has me wondering just what I will do next year.

On the one side, Black Friday got me a deal this year. On the other side, my children were out in that mess with me.

It wasn't fun. I saw a lot of miserable people.

And the people working -- everywhere -- hate it.

When it gets down to this: workers hating it, shoppers dreading it, and people dying...haven't we gone too far?
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