Around the Nation
2:42 pm
Fri November 25, 2011

Black Friday Madness Sweeps Across The Country

Originally published on Sat November 26, 2011 6:08 am

By the time it opened at 9 p.m. Thursday night for Black Friday, the Toys R Us in New York City's Times Square had a line snaking around the corner from its entrance on 44th Street. It went on for two blocks.

Angela Jenkins was there with two of her girlfriends and no kids. "I left my boyfriend with all of our kids ... by himself," she says with a laugh.

"You gotta do what you gotta do," Jenkins says.

Preparing for Black Friday can mean more than just grabbing a coat and purse. Like many people going to somewhat extreme measures to shop, Jenkins' friend Louise Hamilton says one must follow a well-orchestrated plan.

"A week and a half or two weeks in advance, we looked online for all the circulars that they have for the stores, and we planned how we're gonna do it," Hamilton says.

In the case of Toys R Us, this involved a 28-page circular that in total represents some $12,000 in potential savings.

Many stores opened earlier than ever this year, some on Thanksgiving Day. The National Retail Federation says that based on early showings, holiday sales are on track for a slight increase, to $465 billion this year. That's despite a fairly sluggish economy.

Getting $50 off an iPod or $100 off on an Xbox requires some sacrifice — or some insanity, depending on your perspective. Yanpiero Taveras left his family before the Thanksgiving meal to get in line at the Times Square Toys R Us.

"Right now, at this very minute, they're eating and I'm right here waiting," Taveras says. "My mom told me, 'Don't go. Don't go.' I didn't even eat. I'm, like, hungry. That's how much I wanted the PS3."

Taveras might not have realized that the tradeoff isn't even necessary. This year, more people are expected to shop from their wireless phones, tablets or computers — without putting in time standing in line.

"For Black Friday, we have the same deals online that we have in the store," Toys R Us CEO Gerald Storch says. "We've seen a lot of growth online, and I expect to see even more this year online. But still, the vast majority of sales take place in the stores, as evidenced by the long lines we're seeing tonight."

The Target in Gaithersburg, Md., opened earlier than ever this year: at midnight.

"The very first person got there at 2 p.m. — 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving," says the store's manager, Jim Hook. "So they're waiting 10 hours for us to open."

Black Friday has generated plenty of backlash, from critics of consumerism as well as employees who don't want to work.

In some parts of the country, Black Friday really lived up to its name. There were two incidents of robbery and apparent gang-related violence in parking lots in California. And police are investigating one incident where a woman at a Los Angeles Wal-Mart used pepper spray against fellow shoppers.

Despite the clamor for heavily discounted flat-screen TVs, Hook says his Maryland store's customers remained very civil and orderly.

"Every management person went through crowd-control training this year. It's the first year we've done that," he says.

Customers were allowed to enter 30 at a time, at 20-second intervals, to prevent a stampede. And those at the front of the line were given tickets entitling them to the items in limited supply. Cones and security tape were set up in the store to encourage orderly customer flow.

Back in Times Square, Storch says he didn't skip out on turkey and stuffing in the name of shopping. "Ha! Of course we had Thanksgiving dinner," he says.

By the next morning, though, the Toys R Us CEO reported that he'd also had four cups of coffee to help him stay up through the night.

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Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

RAZ: Happy Black Friday.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

RAZ: That's the sound of employees and customers at the Toys "R" Us in Times Square, cheering the kickoff of the holiday shopping season. Many stores opened earlier than ever, some on Thanksgiving Day. The National Retail Federation says based on early showings, holiday sales are on track for a slight increase, to $465 billion this year. That's despite the sluggish economy. NPR's Yuki Noguchi has been monitoring the shopping scene since yesterday and sent this report.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: By the time it opened at 9 p.m. last night, that Toys "R" Us had drawn a line of people snaking around the corner from its entrance on 44th Street. It extended two blocks. Angela Jenkins was there with two other girlfriends and no kids.

ANGELA JENKINS: I left my boyfriend with all of our kids. Seven kids right now? Maybe eight kids.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JENKINS: Yeah. We sure did. By himself, yeah. By himself.

NOGUCHI: In this instance, preparing for Black Friday means more than just grabbing a coat and purse.

JENKINS: Give him a kiss here and there.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JENKINS: You had to throw that in there, huh? Yeah. Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JENKINS: You got to do what you got to do.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NOGUCHI: Like many people going to somewhat extreme measures to shop, Jenkins's friend Louise Hamilton says one must follow a well-orchestrated plan.

LOUISE HAMILTON: A week and a half or two weeks in advance, we had like - we looked online at all the circulars that they have for the stores, and we planned how we're going to do it.

NOGUCHI: In the case of Toys "R" Us, this involves a 28-page circular that in total represents some $12,000 of savings. Getting the $50 off an iPod or $100 off on an Xbox requires some sacrifice or insanity, depending on your perspective. Yanpiero Taveras left his family before the Thanksgiving meal to get in line at the Times Square Toys "R" Us.

YANPIERO TAVERAS: Right now, at this very minute, they're eating, and I'm right here waiting. My mom told me: Don't go. Don't go. I didn't even eat. I'm, like, hungry. That's how much I wanted the PS3.

NOGUCHI: It's a tradeoff that Taveras may not have realized is not necessary. This year, more people are expected to shop from their wireless phones, tablets or computers without putting the time standing in line.

GERALD STORCH: For Black Friday, we have the same deals online as we have in the store.

NOGUCHI: Gerald Storch is CEO of Toys "R" Us.

STORCH: And again, we've seen a lot of growth online. I expect to see even more this year online. But still, the vast majority of sales take place in the stores, as evidenced by the long lines we're seeing tonight.

NOGUCHI: Jim Hook is the store manager at a Gaithersburg, Maryland, Target, which like some other chains, opened earlier than ever, at midnight.

JIM HOOK: The very first person in line got there at two on Thanksgiving. So they waited 10 hours for us to open.

NOGUCHI: Black Friday has inspired plenty of backlash, from critics of consumerism as well as employees who don't want to work. Also in some areas of the country, shopping in the cloak of darkness has become dangerous sport. In California, there were two incidents of robbery and apparent gang-related violence in parking lots, and police are investigating one incident where a customer used pepper spray against fellow shoppers. But Hook says despite the clamor for heavily discounted flat-screen TVs, his Maryland store's customers remained very civil and orderly.

HOOK: Every management person in our stores went through crowd-control training this year. That's the first time ever that we've done that.

NOGUCHI: Customers were allowed to enter 30 at a time, at 20-second intervals, to prevent a stampede. And those at the front of the line were given tickets entitling them to the items in limited supply. Cones and security tape were set up in the store to encourage orderly customer flow. Back in Times Square, I asked Toys "R" Us CEO Gerald Storch whether he, like his customers, might have skip out on turkey and stuffing in the name of shopping.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STORCH: Of course, we had Thanksgiving dinner.

NOGUCHI: By the next morning, Storch reported he'd also had four cups of coffee to help him stay up through the night. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.