At 11:49 p.m. on November 24, the eve of Black Friday, vehicles of early bird Christmas shoppers dotted the Wal-Mart parking lot.
Inside the new Wal-Mart Super Center in Linda, California, the floors were being buffed, shelves were being stocked and Wal-Mart employees were guarding pallets–which contained Black Friday sales items. Outside, the early morning shoppers were strategizing. They needed a plan of attack and had only five hours to devise one.
“I’m going to go get a Cabbage Patch Doll and then head over to the TVs,” said Shirley Harwood, as she sat on a bench going over the Wal-Mart sales flyer. When asked about the crowds of Black Friday Harwood said, “If anyonegets in my way, they better watch out. That’s all I’m saying.”
And she was not the only one with this competitive, consumer mentality. “People get this crazy look in their eyes on the day after Thanksgiving,” said Sue Victor. “You have to fight for what you want or go home empty handed.” When asked what she was “fighting” for, Victor pointed in the direction of the electronics department and said, “The Laptops.”
The line for the under-priced laptops started to form in the Wal-Mart’s electronic department around 3 a.m. Equipped with leftover turkey, fruit snacks, refreshments and lawn chairs, the Black Friday shoppers were more than prepared for the two-hour wait. Rumors started to spread throughout the line about the number of laptops available.
“They only have twenty computers!” yelled a woman wearing Scooby-do pajamas who stood twenty-second in line. The low rumble of the early morning customers grew louder as they started to panic. Just before their collective top was about to blow, a Wal-Mart employee informed the crowd of over 100 that there were “plenty” of computers to go around. The crowd quickly caught their breath and went on watching concert footage of Wal-Mart’s own Garth Brooks on the plethora of flat screen TV’s.
Twenty feet away from the computer line stood a Wal-Mart employee who had the toughest job of the morning. He had to guard the Cabbage Patch Dolls. About every two minutes he screamed, “Ladies! Do not touch the Cabbage Patch Dolls until 5 a.m.!” When he tried to stop the women on one side from grabbing the Dolls, the women on his other side would reach in to snatch them. The poor employee did not stand a chance, loosing 15 Dolls to the ruthless shoppers.
As 5 a.m. grew near, the crowd became antsy. “I better get a computer or someone better watch out,” said a frustrated Wal-Mart shopper as he waited in line holding a bag of potato chips. The shoppers started to count down the seconds as if they were in New York City watching the ball drop on New Year’s Eve. As the clock struck 5 a.m., the crowd screamed and yelled, whistled and clapped while pushing their way toward the deals.
Wal-Mart employees handed out laptops along with convenient caring cases as fast as their arms could move. That ended quickly, however, because the “plenty” of laptops that the Wal-Mart employee claimed the store had turned out to be only 40. Costumers were told that the store had run out of computers. Many of the shoppers were upset.
“They lied to us,” said Louis Carr of Marysville. “I waited in this line for over an hour. This place is a joke.”
Though at times the crowds at the Linda Wal-Mart were angry, no single incident of violence erupted. However, shoppers attending other Black Friday sales at Wal-Marts across the country were not so lucky. At a Wal-Mart in Florida, Patricia Van Lester stood at the front of a line of Wal-Mart shoppers who were trying to get their hands on the $29 DVD players. When the doors opened, she was knocked to the ground, trampled and suffered a seizure. “She got pushed down, and they walked over her like a herd of elephants,” Van Lester’s sister, Linda Ellzey, told the New York Daily News.
At the Wal-Mart in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, things got so out of control that it took a dozen police officers to manage a disorderly crowd in the store’s electronics department. Shoppers began forcibly removing laptops and Xboxes from the electronics department. It was all part of a violent and chaotic morning that required police from two communities to descend on the Wal-Mart after a crowd of more than 1,000 people at the store engaged in what police describe as mob-like behavior.
“It was a brawl, a little brawl. It was terrible,” witness John Knight told msnbc.com. “They were fighting over the laptop or the Xbox, and they ran out of both of them. I think the store should have had more on them. They knew there was going to be a big dash like that,” said Knight.
By 7 a.m. the crowd of shoppers at the Linda Wal-Mart began to calm. The shelves were bare and the workers exhausted. Shoppers who choose to get a good night’s rest started to show their faces just as grumpy, sleepy, cranky consumers were leaving. The incoming shoppers at 7 a.m. did not seem to care as much about the deals or how much they could save. They were out shopping because it was the day after Thanksgiving, and it was tradition.