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Diary of a Mad Sportswriter: Black Friday shopping is a contact sport

Diary of a Mad Sportswriter

Stan Hudy is a sportswriter for The Saratogian and Community News. He covers high school and youth sports in the Saratoga County area as well as writing a weekly book review on sports books. He's not just a "stick and ball" sportswriter, he's willing to take on any sport as well as any subject.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Black Friday shopping is a contact sport

After spending Thanksgiving Day carbo-loading for an early jaunt through the big box retailers in Wilton, I realized that I may have to add more weight lifting to my pre-Black Friday workout schedule.

I felt that I was a cagey veteran, spending 12 years in retail, including eight as a store manager, so I was ready. During my post-retail years I have become a savvy shopper, including writing a story last year from inside Wilton’s Best Buy location.

This Black Friday, I went civilian.

No photo camera, no notepad and no video camera. I was equipped with some diet soda, sand in my eyes and a short, but important shopping list.

At 3:30 a.m. my wife, Reda and I traveled to Wilton’s Wal-Mart and was pleasantly surprised to see the doors open at the food center entrance and no lines. This location decided to save its customers from potential frostbite, but it came with a price.

Throughout the store wooden pallets were dispersed, filled with the delectable door busters associated with Black Friday’s deep, discounted savings including computers, large screen TVs, DVD players and the like. The contents were secured with plastic wrap and guarded by an employee to prevent any pre-mature unwrapping. The pallets and the employees were then surrounded by growing crowds of consumers.

I was set to grab two 8-inch digital photo frames priced at $49 each that were included in neatly stacked piles of portable DVD players and cases. Included on the pallet were two tall displays of discounted jeans.

As the clock counted down towards the 5 a.m. magic moment, the crowds grew bigger around each pallet, more carts clogged the aisle and more consumers tracked down their counterparts in other areas within the store.

From the overhead speakers we were greeted by the voice of reason, a manager, stating the wrap would be cut shortly and please be aware of others.

That warning went unheeded.

As the plastic wrap started to be cut off, a group of overeager shoppers dove over the jean display and grabbed insanely at the DVD players and photo frames. My position quickly moved from being within an arm’s length of the pile, backwards into the main aisle. I remained calm and found my way back to the diminishing pile of presents as people continued to swarm towards and away from the pallet.

It was great to be warm and inside, but instead of the annual running of the shoppers, this location created 25 or more different shopping scrums throughout the store.

Fortunately, I sent Reda over to the toy department to grab the Mega Blocks, mega-deal, 120 blocks for $10 for our new god daughter, Lilly.

She was fortunate to grab a bag of blocks, but not before being checked into another pile of toys. Her day didn't get any better after we found a special Cabbage Patch doll for Lilly in top stock, in the paint department.

Another female shopper asked her where she found the doll and asked if she could just take my wife's, versus get one herself. Reda's generous, but her god daughter came first on this one.

After grabbing our precious presents, our luck turned, finding out we could check out in the automotive department versus trudging up to the main register banks. Thanks guys!

We decided to do unto others, telling several shoppers who were at the rear of several perspective lines about the automotive check out opening and were greeted with smiles and thank you's.

Once out of the nation’s largest retailer I ducked over to Staples to join their line outside the store for its 6 a.m. opening. I wasn’t disappointed. The store manager and staff walked the line, handing out in-store special advertisements, maps of where the smaller consumer electronics would be staged and even encouraged the singing of some Christmas carols.

We moved inside, outside of the cold, grabbed some discounted photo cards and jumped into the checkout line. My heart skipped a beat when it appeared that the registers appeared to be locked up, but it lasted only a few seconds and it was back to cash or charge.

The Staples manager had the best outlook, joking with the crowd, opening the doors on time and again asking for a few Christmas carols once the crowds filled the store and the masses went from rushing to simply standing in check-out lines.

I zipped over to Target for one present for myself, a new George Foreman grill (insert joke here). Yes, I need a bigger one and I couldn’t pass up the sale price.

Target has the longest lines, but like all the retailers, every register was open and moved us along.

Three retailers, no broken bones, no hypothermia, shopping list completed, breakfast and a well-deserved nap, call it another successful Black Friday.

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