Black Fri– er, I mean, Thursday?!

17 Nov

Two years ago, my little brother and I headed out at 4 a.m. on Black Friday to buy the one big-ticket holiday item we had our eyes on: a Nintendo Wii, which would be a family gift from the two of us.

We got to Wal-Mart at the perfect time: the doors had opened a half hour before, so we missed the mad rush inside, and people were walking around. But the registers were not going to start ringing up items for another hour or so. We figured we had plenty of time to scope out the Wii, get in line, get a ticket or something, and go along or merry way. Since we’d gone to a small-town store, we weren’t too worried about them being sold out.

As it turns out, we should have been worried… but not for the reasons you might think.

I walked up and down the aisles, searching for the Wii consoles, pushing my way through thick crowds of people, wishing I’d left my jacket in the car as I began to overheat. I’d left my little brother somewhere behind me with the shopping cart, and I hoped I’d be able to find him again in a few minutes.

I headed down the electronics aisle for the second time, and then a third. No Wii console.

I walked down the aisle with CDs and video games. No Wii console.

I walked down the aisle with DVDs. No Wii console.

Had they already sold out? I flipped open the flyer I’d ripped out of the Thanksgiving newspaper supplements. Yes, the Wii was on sale. Yes, the price was supposedly good. So where were they?

“Excuse me,” I said, as I approached an employee. “Excuse me, can you tell me—”

She looked at me, holding up my flyer with the Wii on it, sweating in my winter jacket, pushing through the crowd and shook her head.

“What?” I said. “Sold out already? The store isn’t even officially open yet—”

“No,” she said, smiling all too nicely. “Did you read the fine print? The Wii sale is online only special.”

I furiously scanned the flyer.

Sure enough, in mid-size lettering in a shiny print box were the words: “Online Only!”

Defeated, having woken up at 4 a.m. and driven to the store without any real cause, I searched for my little brother to tell him the news.

By the time we got home, of course, it was 5 a.m., and the online special had already sold out.

I haven’t gone to a Black Friday early-morning sale since.

And this year, I can’t say I’m very tempted.

That’s because some stores are opening earlier than ever—turning the Black Friday event into a Thanksgiving Day event.

While several stores are advertising midnight openings, others are starting price specials as early as 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

And I thought 4 a.m. on a Friday was an absurd hour to wake up to go shopping.

In retrospect, I probably didn’t deserve to get a Wii special price package that day; some people line up hours before the store opens—sleeping overnight in lines in store parking lots—to get the deal of the year in the wee hours of the morning on Black Friday. I certainly wasn’t among them. Drawing the line at getting up at 4 a.m. might seem arbitrary, but I decided that I did need some sleep, after all, and I was unwilling to get it in a parking lot overnight in the cold.

But those same people who are searching out those deals are not going to have to start lining up around dinner time on Thanksgiving Day.

While I sincerely hope that most Americans value the Thanksgiving holiday enough to enjoy it and at least wait until it becomes Friday at 12:01 a.m. to leave for their Christmas shopping adventures, I know that there will likely be a number of people out there in line instead of eating turkey with their families.

“I feel terrible,” Brian Dunn, the chief executive of Best Buy, told the New York Times this week. He claimed that a midnight opening “became an operating imperative for us.” Blame the other stores that are planning to open at midnight or before—and an (un)healthy sense of capitalist profit maximization in an economy where a lot of people would do (almost) anything to save a few bucks.

It’s not only shoppers who might have to give up hours of family time and turkey time this Thanksgiving—but also employees who have to staff these stores earlier and earlier.

Aside from the ridiculousness that these earlier-than-ever store openings create—and the fact that they take away from arguably the most important national holiday of the year, I have one important question: What’s the point of calling it Black Friday, if it’s happening on Thursday?

Published this week by the Southbridge Evening News and other Stonebridge Press Newspapers.

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