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Front Page » December 3, 2002 » Opinion » When holiday shopping turns deadly
Published 4,288 days ago

When holiday shopping turns deadly


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By RICHARD SHAW
Staff reporter

For the week before Thanksgiving, the television was full of ads from big stores that were having their "after Thanksgiving" sales. Most of those sales, as they have for years, began at ungodly times of the day such as at 5:45 a.m. or 12:01 a.m. or something like that.

This type of marketing has been going on for nearly 20 years now. It used to be that you got up on the Friday after Thanksgiving relaxed and happy from a wonderful day before, got ready in a leisurely fashion to take the drive to the mall or store and hoped that they"d be open by 10 a.m. so you could begin to do your holiday shopping.

But since the advent of almost everyone having early bird sales on what is considered to be the first major day of Christmas shopping, that"s no longer true. In fact much of what has to be done actually starts the day before. Right after the turkey dinner is consumed, people start running through the ads in the paper looking to see what they want to buy and how early they will have to be there to buy it. They clip coupons, plan out their strategy by seeing what store is open at five, which at six, which at seven and which, you know the later opening ones, at eight. They make sure the car is gassed up and the trunk is empty.

I used to wonder how many people actually showed up at those stores on that morning, that early, thinking it must be just a few diehard shoppers. But I was wrong.

I discovered my error with tacit clarity a few years ago when my wife talked me into going to a 5 a.m. opening of a craft store because they had some type of thing so cheap she couldn"t believe it. I don"t remember what it was she was after, but her enthusiasm for the item, how much she needed it and how much money it would save by going the sale must have impressed me. On a morning on which I was usually either still in bed or enjoying the quiet serenity of our home, I ventured out, scraped the hard cold frost off the windows of the car and headed in the general direction of West Jordan.

We got there about 4:45 a.m. and the parking lot was almost full of cars. More were pulling in behind us as I finally found a space way out by Redwood Road. As we got out I noticed numerous black shapes running toward the store as the sound of car doors slammed all around me.

As we approached the entrance to the store, it looked as if an invasion was forming. People were pressed against the doors and windows, some bulked up with heavy coats, while others were just in shirt sleeves despite the cold morning air. Someone to the left of the crowd was selling hot chocolate and coffee; the steam rising from the cups made it look like we were all standing amongst a small bunch of hotsprings at Yellowstone.

As for the invasion force that stood in the shivering cold, everyone was armed with the weapons of the shopping wars. Some had baskets hanging from the shoulders, knowing that the stores baskets would quickly disappear. Besides, for the seasoned early bird shopper, they knew well that the time it takes to grab a hand or push basket could cost them victory in the shopping aisles.

Others were clinging onto heavy armor; push shopping baskets that were here and there among the crowd, ready to run through the doors and over anyone else that got in the way. These baskets were not native to the store in question, but had been acquired from the grocery outlet next door. I later found these armored units also usually came with small troops that either rode in them or ran interferences for their operators.

Another important fact I learned on that day was that not all of these shopping soldiers came into the fray alone. Many were in squads, strategizing as to who would go where in the store and how many of what they were ordered to pickup so everyone got what they wanted. It was the first time in my life when I realized how really short and small I was. Each of those squads must have had at least two team members that were 6"6". In their heavy coats some of them looked like NFL linebackers.

I was actually just kind of laughing at the whole thing. But my wife wasn"t smiling because she had heard at least 10 of the people in the crowd talking about securing the exact same thing she was after. Most of the invaders were female, with a few dumb men like me who came along for the ride. Little did we know what we had gotten ourselves in for.

"Look we"ll need a basket," she whispered to me, like she feared the others would know what we were after. "You get us a basket and I"ll head right for aisle six where the thingamajigs are. I"ll be grabbing some and when you get there I can throw them in the basket."

At 4:59 a.m., I saw the store manager approaching the doors with much trepidation, as the stores checkers and crew stood behind watching. It reminded me of that furniture store commercial and I began to laugh. But once he opened the doors, there was nothing to laugh at.

It was as if the squads of people had orchestrated their entrance. They pushed through the door and the manager quickly stepped back so that he wouldn"t get hit by the doors as they swung inwards. The first through the doors were the linebackers and then the armored units poured in blocking those of us on the smaller side of physical stature from entering as their small tactical troops ran around screaming and yelling.

My wife did her best to head toward the preselected target area while I tried to pick up a transport. Fisticuffs nearly broke out at the cart storage area as two women tried to pull the same cart out at the same time in two different directions. My toes got run over by fleeing carts time and time again before I could fight my way through the melee and grab onto the bar of a cart with bent wheels that wobbled down the aisle as I avoided bodies of those thrown to the floor in the battle for stuff.

I finally reached aisle six and there she was, fighting her way through the linebacker like foes she had to defeat to get whatever the hell it was she was after. She started tossing me stuff, and I put it in the basket, only to find that the small interference troops had been ordered to look in other peoples baskets and try to make off with any loot they could. I saw people lose much of what they had fought so hard for because they turned away from their shopping carts for just a moment to look at something else. This battle required unadulterated concentration.

Suddenly the crowd which surrounded my wife left the area. Like a flock of starlings weaving around and around in the sky from place to place they headed down the center aisle of the store stopping here and there, devouring aisle ends and displays like they had never existed. Behind them followed a cadre of shopping carts driven either by small troops or dumb men like me.

My wife stood there with the last remaining item that was on the shelf in that part of the store in her hand.

"What is that," I asked her. She looked at it.

"I don"t know, but I got the last one," she said with the same look in her eyes that I had seen in the blitzkrieg troops that had just wandered off.

I convinced her that further struggle was useless, and we headed to the checkout. Luckily the war going on in the aisles was still raging there so the checkers were not to busy yet. Just as we finished paying for our plunder, the crowd reached the checkstand lines and I ran out the door with the cart as fast as I could. We got to the car, put the stuff in the trunk and was ready to leave.

My wife was looking at the paper as I tried to get out of the parking lot, avoiding small troops running out with bags of goods from the store, the linebackers following close behind.

"Hey," she said as she looked at her watch. "The Z-Mart down the road has a sale that starts at 6 a.m. It"s only 5:45, we can make it for their opening."

I glared at her. It seemed to me that the 45 minutes we had spent in the previous store may as well have been the first 45 years of my life. I drove home ignoring her protests. I have never been back to one of those early morning day after Thanksgiving sales again. And I never will either.

OK. I take that back. I might go if it was at Harbor Freight.


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December 3, 2002
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