TUPELO – Retailers were bustling with shoppers hours before the sun came up Friday as part of the annual day-after-Thanksgiving events.
But before they shopped, the early-morning customers spent their time fighting one of their biggest peeves – line-jumpers.
Black Friday historically is one of the busiest shopping days of the year and the traditional kickoff to the Christmas shopping season. It’s known for large crowds gathering and even camping out for early-morning doorbusters.
This year was no exception.
Shoppers started lining up at Best Buy at 12:30 Thursday afternoon. As the hours ticked by, lines formed throughout the night at other retailers such as Walmart, Kohl’s, Scrugg’s, Belk, Sears, JCPenney and Lowe’s.
Many of the shoppers braved hours in frigid temperatures, with the thermometer dropping down to 34 degrees early Friday morning. Most of them said they did it for the adrenaline rush and because it’s a family tradition to shop on Black Friday. The second most-voiced reason was the desire to get a good bargain.
“When you have six children, you have to do the best you can do,” said Beverly Speed of Pontotoc, who was waiting at 1:45 a.m. at Walmart for the chance to buy a $300 laptop at 5 a.m. “I do it for the bargain prices and it’s also fun for me to come see the crowds … What are you losing? Nothing but sleep. By 5, I’ll be done and heading home.”
She was standing next to Tawana Dearing of Tupelo, who had her shopping cart full of Christmas goodies.
“I’m here for the rush,” Dearing said. “I could do without all this stuff, but I like the rush.”
Drama at Toys R Us
Toys R Us kicked off Tupelo’s Black Friday festivities with a midnight opening. Traci McCullough of Tupelo started the line at 6 p.m. Thursday, waiting for her chance to score a Zhu Zhu Pet, a motorized hamster toy that is quickly becoming one of the hardest-to-find toys this year.
By the time the doors opened at midnight, store manager Todd Brown estimated about 1,000 people were in the line that stretched to T.J. Maxx.
Drama erupted around 11:30 p.m. when shoppers said a woman cut in line, positioning herself with the first 10 people.
According to a Tupelo police officer, some of the customers in line called the police department and reported the line-jumper. An officer showed up and told the woman she could go to the end of the line or could go with him. She opted to leave voluntarily.
Brown joined the cause of the customers in line, guarding the order once the doors were open so people who arrived late couldn’t cut.
“The hardest part is just keeping the line-skippers from going in,” he said.
Trouble at Old Navy, too
Line-jumpers caused even more of a scene at Old Navy, which opened at 3 a.m.
Old Navy’s line started at one of the doors around 11:30 p.m. with Amber Willis of Pontotoc, Sally Afana of Holly Springs and Michael Marcantel of Blue Springs. The crowd grew with each hour, eventually moving past the former Circuit City building and looping into the parking lot. People also were gathered on the island in front of the store to watch the commotion.
Old Navy’s crowd was rowdier than the one at Toys R Us. People were counting down the time until the opening, calling out the minutes left. The people in line also were loudly advising the watchers across the street that they better not skip.
When the store opened, the employees sparked a mad dash by opening two sets of doors, not just the one people had lined up in front of for hours. The people waiting across the street started running for the new doors. Then the people at the end of the line started running for the doors.
Within 10 minutes, everyone was in the store shopping. There also were three police cars parked along the curb.
Sherri McGlond, general manager at Old Navy, said the crowds were bigger this year than last year, but she’s used to the competitive nature of the shoppers.
“They do the same thing when we have $1 flip-flops,” she said. “There’s something about a sale that drives people crazy. They run. They fight. They beat each other up.”
Friday, she said the craze was over $5 fleeces and $10 kids jeans and $15 adult jeans.
And even though there was a bit of drama early on at Toys R Us, things were going “very well” several hours into the day, Brown said.
“People were in very good moods,” he said. “The lines were long, but they were moving.”
He added that customers were shopping, not just looking, on Friday.
“I think it was a busier than normal Black Friday,” Brown said.
People began filing into the common areas at The Mall at Barnes Crossing at 3 a.m., general manager Jeff Snyder said. The department stores and several specialty stores opened at 4 a.m., and all stores in the mall were open by 6 a.m., an hour earlier than last year.
By 3 p.m., the mall had seen 58,847 cars, said Snyder, who estimated that meant 176,541 customers and about a 3.5 percent increase in traffic from last year.
The only issues to report from Friday were that two women required supplemental oxygen, and two juveniles caught shoplifting were picked up by the Tupelo Police Department, Snyder said.
Snyder said mall officials tended to the two women with oxygen they had on the property and outside help was not needed.
“Remember to pace yourself,” Snyder said. “Shopping is great, but take time to sit down and have a bite to eat or a cold drink. The thing to do is to pace yourself, especially if you’re not used to turbo shopping or getting out there and going wide open.”
Not only was the number of shoppers higher than it was last year, Snyder also said several retailers reported that customers were spending more money than they had at this time last year.
Early in the day, the mall’s GAP store reported that it was the highest-selling GAP store in its district for the day, marketing director Cindy Childs said. Childs added that several stores reported they already had reached their quota by 1 or 2 p.m.
“My initial prediction was that last year people were really scared when there was a lot of doom and gloom news,” Snyder said. “Last year, they were on red alert, and this year they’re only on Amber Alert. They’re going to go out and have a great Christmas.”
Contact Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Chris Kieffer contributed to this story.
Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal