The Richmond Register

November 24, 2012

‘Black Friday makes me see red’

Register staffer participates in ‘shopping madness’ for first time

By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer

RICHMOND —

“This is like a zombie apocalypse – but with live people,” my partner Jimmy said Thursday night as we tried to drop in for a few groceries at Walmart. It was stupid of us; I know that now (Stop shaking your head at me).

I’m usually content with ordering all of my Christmas gifts online and paying that extra in shipping just to avoid the madness of holiday shopping. Because of my lack of Black Friday experience, however, I didn’t know how crazy it could get.  We tried to gauge the crowd Thursday night by how many spots were left in the parking lot. It was 6 p.m. and the sales didn’t start until 8 p.m., we had time right? Wrong.

The “people-herding” rails, caution tape and emergency cones were already in place. Security officers stood stoically next to stacks of toys, electronics and 300-thread count bed sheets.

 We maneuvered our cart through the dairy section and saw people sitting on the edges of the coolers. “Why are people waiting in line to buy eggs?” Jimmy asked.

I giggled at his naivety – I may be Black Friday stupid, but I knew people weren’t waiting for eggs.

“No honey,” I said, “these people are waiting for that 40-inch television about a mile over that way.”

We needed shampoo, so we head over to the personal-care section where merchandise bundled with plastic wrap was stacked between the aisles. Customers were standing around the bundles with one hand touching it to claim their spots. It’s like when you were a kid and you took one bite of every cookie so nobody else could have them.

Argh! I just wanted to get some shampoo, and these people were in the way. But then I realized that we were the ones out of place.

I ducked under some caution tape and apologized to someone standing in line. “I’m just getting some rice,” I said. “You’re here for groceries?” The man asked incredulously.

As we left the lot, I saw a nearby restaurant selling parking spots for $5 each. Just as I was about to say, “Nobody’s going to pay $5 to park near Walmart,” cars started pulling in.

Cars circled like vultures for any remaining spots. Apparently we were the only ones leaving. Everyone else was in for the long haul.   

Although I get all highbrow about not participating in the Black Friday madness, I am a little jealous of those who stick it through for the bargains. My brothers waited for an hour to buy a 32-inch television for my grandfather. Their line snaked through five grocery aisles, but they only paid $140 for a TV that retails for about $300. That’s worth it, right?

Oh, and did anyone get the memo? Black Friday starts on Thursday now. And no, I’m not talking about camping out Thursday night for the early bird specials. I’m saying you have to wrap up your Thanksgiving feast early Thursday to make it to the pre-Black Friday sales. Black Friday has gotten even more competitive, and as I’ve heard some complain, it’s cutting into the holiday of Thanksgiving.

Bill Birkenmeier, the store manager at J.C. Penney in Richmond, said when he came to work this morning at 3:45 a.m., people were snuggled up in a sleeping bag to wait for the store’s opening at 6 a.m. Now that’s dedication.

But, just like most people, I’ve got a kid to buy for. I don’t have a lot of money, so I have to make those limited resources stretch as far as they can. With two Black Friday coupons and just $50, I braved the crowd at Kohl’s on Friday morning.

I showed up and the parking lot wasn’t full. “It’ll be alright,” I thought. “Put your big-girl britches on and do this.”

The shopping part wasn’t so bad. They didn’t have any buggies left, but I’m used to buying only what I can carry. It’s kind of a policy of mine when I go shopping for non-necessities ? only buy what I can carry. Believe me, I’ve gotten pretty creative with that.

Anyhow, I go up front to find a line, which turned out to be a big mistake. The lines didn’t start up front.

I made my way to the back of the line, which I found in the back of the store. As I firmly planted myself in a spot, the lady in front of me waved to her friend to join her. I found myself immediately getting angry. I wanted to protest, but my hands were full, and shopping had just taken all the fight out of me.  

 I overheard one guy who said this was his third visit, and he had been there at midnight when the store opened. In the wee hours of the morning, he said, there had been two lines that wrapped around both sides of the store. He waited more than an hour to check out, he said.

That didn’t sound promising to me.

As I stood in line, my hand going numb from balancing my purchases, I watched shoppers walk by searching for the end of the line. Their facial expressions went from anxious to disbelief when they discovered the line went back farther than they thought. I imagine I looked the same way when I came to that realization, too.

I snapped a photo of the line from the back of the store and texted it to my co-worker Ronica Shannon. “In line at Kohl’s. Be there … tomorrow. lol,” the text read.  

Surprisingly, the line moved quickly. Sales associates were directing customers to each register and the cashiers were moving as fast as they could go.

Although I never buy anything at full price during the rest of the year, I walked out of that store with a newfound sense of accomplishment – as well as three awesome Christmas presents, a toddler-sized Oxford shirt and some new kicks for my son Ryker. My receipt says I saved $135.59 (cha-ching!).

This experience got me thinking … I could really use a new TV next year. Egg cooler, here I come!

Crystal Wylie can be reached at cwylie@richmondregister.com

or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.