Nov. 28--Black Friday shopping became a violent mess across the United States, as national media reported brawls at malls in places like Kentucky, Texas and Louisiana.
There were no fatalities reported, though, which was an improvement from years past. A Walmart employee was trampled to death in Utah in 2013 as hordes of shoppers rushed into the store to race down bargains.
Locally, steady rain wasn't enough to keep the masses at home, but the crowds were seemingly more subdued than the hoards bloodthirsty for the deals to be had at department stores and other big-time retailers in other parts of the country.
By mid-morning at Markland Mall, the matching inscriptions on Khrista Southerland's and Mary Cunningham's shirts summed up the scene well: Keep Calm and Black Friday On.
"I don't know what keeps on bringing us back, because we keep getting the same stuff every year," Cunningham said. "It's just the spirit of it. It's fun. It's just good deals."
Although there wasn't any violence, make no mistake: Black Friday is a shopaholic's Super Bowl for Southerland and Cunningham much like it is for the millions of other people who stand in line for hours in the bitter cold and rain in some cases to get "the deals and thrills," as Cunningham put it.
"My favorite part is getting in line and being the first person in line to get something," Southerland added. "At Walmart, you have to get a bracelet in order to get TVs or electronics. You get to the checkout and when you're done you look at your receipt and see you saved way more than you spent. It's a thrill."
For couples like Southerland and Cunningham, it's also about spending time together. A shared interest, if you will.
"The worst are people who don't get those deals," Cunningham said. "If I don't get something, I think 'OK that's fine, I'll come back around.' Some people really are diehard about it. We do it for fun, but some people are extreme, and they can get cutthroat for things like toys for their kids."
Now that most big-box retailers' advertisements are online, shoppers can develop a plan of attack for Black Friday weeks in advance. No longer is it necessary to wait for the ads in the Thanksgiving Day newspaper to figure out what's on sale where.
Cunningham and Southerland's excursion started Thursday night with a trip to Walmart, and as of Friday mid-day, Southerland was yet to go to bed after waking up at 9 a.m. Thursday morning. Fueled up on Pepsi and Starbucks, she'd been to Toys R Us, Kohl's and back to Walmart before hitting up the Markland Mall to take advantage of the 50-percent-off sale at Old Navy.
Much to her surprise, "Walmart was very organized -- the best I've ever seen it," Southerland said. "Our cashier was telling us that it was the manager's first year at the store, and he wanted to make sure everything was flowing and organized. So, they did a really good job. I was pleasantly surprised."
Part of their tradition for Black Friday involves making shirts each year. The "Keep Calm" theme seemed appropriate for the occasion, especially considering the shopping melees seen around the country in recent years.
Shoppers who spend an estimated $135 million nationwide on Black Friday can make for a harrowing experience for employees who are left to work the holiday.
The checkout line at Bath and Body Works was nearly out the door around noon Friday, this after the lotion and fragrance retailer was open from 6 p.m. Thursday to 1 a.m. Friday, then re-opened at 6 o'clock Friday morning.
"It's all about the deals," Bath and Body Works associate Delaney said. "Everbody is out to get a great deal."
And, there were deals to be had. At Target, $1,200 TVs -- 55-inch flat screens -- were on sale for under $800. At the opposite end of Markland Mall, more than 20 people waited at the Sears checkout counter near lunchtime, some taking advantage of the "doorbuster" prices on items like the Craftsmen tool sets, which were over 50-percent off.
Finish Line associate Jake Benzinger, 18, was working his first Black Friday in retail after spending the previous year working at Five Guys Burgers and Fries.
Benzinger showed up for work at 7:30 a.m. Friday, but by then, the blows had been softened by the fact the footwear and apparel retailer opened Thursday evening and never closed, remaining open through the night after opening its doors 6 p.m. Thursday.
"It was actually pretty slow when I got here," he said. "It started to pick up and it's been off and on. Most of the people came in and shopped [Thursday]. I kinda knew what it would be like [Friday] because there were a lot of people in here [Thursday] night when the doors opened. The sales were already going on, and people wanted to get in here and get it over with."
Like other retail associates, Benzinger agreed that, without question, it's the thrill of a deal that brings people back to rub elbows with other competitive shoppers on Black Friday year after year.
"The brands -- people want to have the name brands so they can say 'I have Jordans'," he added. "We have Nike stuff on sale that never goes on sale. When they see that it's actually on sale, they have a heyday with it. That's a pretty big attraction. You might even be interested in finding something for yourself when it's all said and done."
Josh Sigler can be reached at 765-454-8580, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @JSig_KT.
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