I haven’t had a Thanksgiving meal on Thanksgiving Day with my family in 12 years.
That’s what happens when you’re a newspaper reporter and covering retail is your beat. Even though I also cover food and the week leading up to the holiday is spent writing all about turkeys and pies, I must also cover Black Friday, the traditional kickoff to the holiday shopping season.
That’s not a big deal to me. I always have a plate from a Friendsgiving dinner waiting for me when I get home and we celebrate with family later in the weekend.
But it means I have witnessed 12 Black Fridays. From shivering in the dark at 3 a.m. with about 1,000 people waiting for Best Buy to open to the gradual creep of openings into Thanksgiving, I’ve seen a lot of this crazy day.
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Here’s a few things I’ve learned over all those years.
1 – You’re not going to get punched in the face if you go shopping on Black Friday in Fresno. I see a lot of dramatic posts and virtual pearl-clutching on Facebook, but most people’s Black Friday experiences are pretty safe.
Though, sadly, a worker died after being trampled by an out-of-control crowd at a Walmart in Long Island in 2008. Still, that is not the norm. I have never seen violence at Black Friday openings in Fresno.
Retailers have evolved in how they handle crowds so tensions don’t escalate into something worse. They use carts or barricades to keep people from cutting in lines and let a limited number through the doors at one time. All the big-box stores now hand out vouchers for the big-ticket items so there’s no reason to run through the store or fight over an item.
2 – Most people are pretty nice. One experience in particular stands out. At Toys R Us one year, a woman had piled her cart high with boxes of discounted diapers. She rounded a corner and several toppled to the floor. Four people stopped what they were doing and jumped to help her.
Often, there’s a sense of camaraderie, a recognition that this is all a little silly but we’re in it together.
3 – The best place to find parking at Fashion Fair is on the south side of the mall. This goes for the rest of the holiday shopping season. If you don’t mind entering the mall from the Forever 21 end, you’ll have an even better shot at finding an empty space.
4 – If you don’t like crowds, don’t go shopping on Thanksgiving or Black Friday. No discount is going to be worth dodging carts, strollers and children who randomly drop to the floor and hold up the line with what appears to be an imitation of a tornado.
One year, I decided I would be an intrepid reporter and get the full Black Friday crowd experience at Fashion Fair. I marched myself right into a morass of people trying to get into Victoria’s Secret and immediately came to a full stop. People pressed in on me from every direction and I could feel them breathing on me. I had to grab the forearm of the woman behind me because it was pressing into my back. A few days later I came down with bronchitis and two ear infections. Not worth it.
5 – The busiest places on Black Friday in this town are the shoe department at JCPenney and the Fashion Fair Victoria’s Secret, where deals on sequined totes and hoodies with angel wings are exceedingly popular. The River Park Best Buy probably has the most shoppers per square inch in town – or maybe it just feels like it with all those giant TVs taking up space.
6 – Starbucks employees at locations open on Thanksgiving are a godsend. As a reporter looking for a quiet place to write on deadline with Wi-Fi, some caffeine and, frankly, a place to pee that doesn’t involve battling crowds, I thank you.
The same goes for all the fast-food workers and retail employees stuck working on Thanksgiving. You are appreciated.
7 – Most people bemoan the creep of retailers opening earlier on Thanksgiving Day, but I like it. No more 2 a.m. alarms or other crazy wake-up times.
That dark morning in the Best Buy parking lot I mentioned? It was in the 30s and foggy. Even fingerless gloves don’t help you write when your fingers are that cold.
Now my work is over and done with early enough to have a nice evening at home.
8 – Retail reporters don’t get to shop while covering Black Friday – for the most part. This is the No. 1 question people ask me when they hear I’m covering Black Friday. I’ve come face to face with plenty of good deals, but that line for the register is a deal breaker. The deadline to get the story up on the website comes first.
Although once you’re off deadline – and if you’re not lugging around a laptop that gets heavier by the minute – there are ways to swing a little shopping.
One year I was so hopped up on energy drinks when I filed my story at 5 a.m. that I couldn’t imagine going home. I drove back to JCPenney and scored some major deals on sweaters.