By Chris Furguson
Eddie, a grandfather in his 60’s from Brawley, waited until midnight at the Brawley Wal-Mart to buy a special toy for his grandson. His son, Junior, would wait until 5 a.m. for a chance at a discount television.
James, a father in his mid-40s from El Centro, spent most of his Thanksgiving night in the cold outside the Best Buy waiting for computer equipment for his home office and gifts for his family. He was one of hundreds that circled the building before the 5 a.m. opening.
Juanita, a 17-year old student in El Centro, spent hours at the Imperial Valley Mall waiting outside the Gap for specials while her parents waited outside the Disney Store.
Stories like these and many others are part of the shopping spree known as “Black Friday” or the day after Thanksgiving. Black Friday is so named because it is usually the day when a store finally turns a profit and, historically, could start using black ink in their ledgers instead of red.
This year, over 212 million customers spent $45 billion during this, the largest Black Friday weekend since 2007 and the first significant increase in shopping since the recent economic collapse.
Many stores had midnight openings, including Wal-Mart, while others opened their doors at 5 a.m. The Imperial Valley Mall had a midnight opening with some stores, including long lines outside Aeropostale and The Disney Store.
Some of the earliest shoppers waited hours, camping out in the cold and wind looking for holiday gifts.
“It’s a tradition,” said James. “We spend our Thanksgiving warm with our families and our Friday in the cold with the other shoppers.”
While the vast majority of customers were simply trying to shop, there were a few incidents involving shoppers across the country:
In Buffalo, New York, a video of a near stampede at a Target that showed several customers almost getting trampled went viral in the early hours of Black Friday. The video would show that, after the fallen customers were helped to their feet in spite of the overeager shoppers, some were grimacing in pain before rushing to find bargains.
A Middletown, New Jersey man was arrested for allegedly assaulting a peace officer when he attempted to cut in line at a Target. Christopher Melchionna, age 28, is alleged to have attempted to cut in line twice, the second time charging into an officer, and refusing to follow instructions which led to his arrest. According to an official statement of the incident, Melchionna was intoxicated at the time.
In Madison, Wisconsin, a 21-year old black woman named Lanissa Lattimore was trying to cut in line at a Toys R Us when confronted by those already in line. When confronted and told to get to the end of the line, Lattimore allegedly threatened to get her gun and start shooting. She was later arrested for disorderly conduct when police arrived and could not find any firearms.
Customers at a Saginaw, Michigan mall saw a small brawl that wound up with seven arrested. All arrested were between the ages of 14 and 21.
In Sacramento, California, pushing and shoving among customers and store security personnel at a Wal-Mart caused local police and store managers to evacuate the store, directing all customers to leave their carts and wait outside until order could be restored.
There were no reported Black Friday deaths this season. Other incidents of Black Friday shopping rage were reported around the country, but most were minor.
In the Imperial Valley, some enthusiasm for early holiday bargains was tempered by a more than two hour wait at the Mexicali-Calexico border. Many critics suggested that the wait could have curtailed an additional 30% increase in sales for local businesses.
Many of the local big retailers were still packed with early morning shoppers, but reports from downtown El Centro paint a mixed picture there. Other downtown areas reported similar results on Friday.
For some, holiday shopping didn’t begin until Cyber Monday, when many workers used their office’s online connection to do some of their holiday shopping. This year, online bank PayPal said that there was a 25% increase in online traffic through their service compared to 2009.
Websites like Amazon.com, Walmart.com eBay and others posted larger than ever web visits compared to previous years.
It was estimated that almost 107 million sales would be generated on Cyber Monday, as compared to 96 million last year. While the majority of those sales would come from a computer, a growing percentage would come from cell phones, showing the increasing power of the portable devices.
Cyber Monday is expected to generate nearly $22 billion in retail sales.
While Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the holiday season, many retail experts say that excellent deals will be available until December 24th and beyond.
By Chris Furguson