Oh My Black Friday!

Last year, I had  my very first Black Friday shopping experience. I woke up around 5 am, puked and thought that I really needed to buy a home pregnancy test. Lucky for me, this was the one day of the year that the stores were actually open. So I quietly threw on sweats, scribbled a note and crept out of the house.

I shopped a big store where I waited in a crazy long line only to find that the items in my basket weren’t on the sale flyer, and tossed them as I stormed out. Finally, a quick stop by a quiet pharmacy for the test and I returned home, had breakfast, puked again and went to some smaller stores with much shorter lines. (I didn’t test until the next morning.)

This year, however, I had a plan. I’d stalked black-friday.net and created my list. Which I then downloaded onto my phone. The only problem? Well, there were several. The first being I wasn’t in my town. I didn’t know where the stores were. The second, I wasn’t exactly motivated. I mean, sure, I was motivated to shop. And I had a little $200 gift card burning a hole in my bag motivating me to really shop (more on that shortly). But that test from last year had come back positive and I knew I’d have limited shopping time before Little needed to be fed. Plus, we were on a vacation, of sorts.

Then there was the real ding in the plan. I had heard through the grapevine (okay, through Facebook status updates) that some Walmarts were open on Thursday and were offering Black Friday deals early. So I thought I’d be sly. I talked Huz into going out with me Thanksgiving night, at 10:30, to Walmart. I had my list. I was ready to spend. Infact I had planned to spend a whopping $72 at Walmart. (Yes, we wanted to get in on the TV deal, but there was no way to bring it home with us, shy of strapping one of the kids to the roof for a 9 hour drive). Still, for $72, I was planning to walk out having purchased over 10 items.  This was to be a good shopping excursion. Totally worth the 20 minute drive to a Walmart that was further from my parents’ home than their neighborhood store, but said to be much better and bigger.

And so we drove. And we arrived to a quite parking lot and an even quieter store. And so I learned: If you want to see what happens as a store prepares for a 5 am Black Friday sale, visit Walmart on Thanksgiving night, around 10:30 am. You’ll see palattes being pulled out and realigned. You’ll see management telling staffers to shift boxes and crates again and again. You’ll see towers of toys with signage all mixed up. But what you won’t see? The register honoring the sale prices. Unless you’re at that special store that does sell a day early. (and, really Walmart? What is up with that?!)

And so, after touring this so much bigger and better Walmart for 30 minutes, discussing items that were on my list but not yet out on the floor and exploring aisle upon aisle of toys that we were realizing our kids suddenly may like, we left. Nearly empty handed. You see, we were handed a flyer for Black Friday. “Come back in a few hours!” the greeter shouted after us.

Strapped back into my seat, I noticed the time: 11:08. Toys R Us was scheduled to open at 12. A quick glance at the GPS placed it about 20 minutes away. And so, the good sport that Huz is, he drove. I laughed about how prepared I was to hit TRU on Black Friday. My list had been downloaded onto the phone with the Walmart list. I had a plan. We would walk in, grab our things, and be done with it. Somehow, I had completely forgotten the images of the Black Friday rush from years past on the news. Or perhaps I didn’t really believe them to be true. Somehow, this was something I had to see to believe.

And so, as we pulled up to Carolina Place’s Toys R Us (which is located on the perimeter of the mall, across a 4-lane street and a medium-sized parking lot) we noticed the cars. Cars approaching TRU in all directions. Lights on. Driving slowly. A la’ Field of Dreams. Because, apparently, unbeknownst to me, Toys R Us on Black Friday is a sort of Field of Dreams. To parents and children alike. I just had no idea. I had been telling the huz that we’d sit in the car and relax until midnight. I suppose I expected a quiet, normal shopping trip to Toys R Us, only with good deals.

Instead, the trail of cars lead to a packed parking lot at Toys R Us. Only to be surrounded by parking lots at surrounding stores that were also packed full. And people civilly, almost politely (this is, afterall, the deep south) lined up from the door, across the lot and into the 4-lane street. Unblelieving, I questioned my husband: “Really? Why?”

“Because,” he replied, “everyone has to get every must-have gift for their precious children. And they have to have it right now. And so they’ll line up, and then they’ll push and shove and claw and scratch at the stroke of midnight.” Ah, yes, the images and news stories came back to me now.

“Let’s get out of here,” I said. We fought traffic for a few minutes, turned around and were home before all those poor people who were freezing in line were even through the doors to their big sales.

And then, I slept. I slept straight on through until 8:45. Basically missing all the doorbusters and must-have deals that I had planned, listed and downloaded to my phone. As a family, we ventured to a museum where we explored real pirate treasures and artifacts and experienced science experiments and activities for hours. We shared laughs. We shared amusements. And it was so much more valuable than the $20 I might have saved on a digital picture frame at 5 am.

I did, however, still make it to Staples: the $200 gift card’s hole had almost burnt through. I’ll share that story tomorrow.

I was selected as a Staples Holiday Blogger. In exchange for blogging about shopping at Staples, I received a $200 gift card. And I can’t wait to tell you about my only real Black Friday Shopping experience, which I’ll post on November 30.

mom of 3 and wife living in the Philadelphia suburbs, Julie is a former elementary school teacher and a Public Relations manager. She is the owner/editor of Julieverse, a merchandiser with Chloe + Isabel (jewelryverse.com) and founder VlogMom and Splash Creative Media. A marketing strategist and freelance education and parenting writer by trade, Julie attempts to carve out time to enjoy playing with her kids, PTO, cooking and exercise.

© 2009, Julie Meyers Pron. All rights reserved.

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