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Published November 27, 2010, 12:00 AM

Black Friday: Shoppers forgo sleep for serious discounts

If you showed up at Best Buy at midnight Thursday in hopes of grabbing the best spot in line and the inside track on the hottest door-buster deals Friday, you were about a day too late.

If you showed up at Best Buy at midnight Thursday in hopes of grabbing the best spot in line and the inside track on the hottest door-buster deals Friday, you were about a day too late.

The first shoppers set up camp (complete with a tent) around 11 p.m. Wednesday. By Thursday night, there were a dozen shoppers and three more tents lined up in sub-freezing conditions.

And if you showed up much later than midnight (by 2 a.m., the line was wrapped around the building), your odds of scoring all the door-busters were right in line with the air temperature: close to zero.

For those who left caution and sleep by the wayside in pursuit of deep discounts, Black Friday was an all-night mix of deal-induced thrills and wind-induced chills.

For those who stayed home, The Forum dispatched a reporter to Fargo’s retail hotspots to give a glimpse of the action, which played out something like this:

Toys R Us, 9:45 p.m.

When Mandi and Kenny Lindley headed out around dinnertime Thursday to grab a spot in front of Toys R Us, they brought bottles of Mountain Dew to fuel their late-night shopping spree.

But 15 minutes before the store opened, the soda wasn’t doing them much good: It was no longer liquid, Kenny said, “and it hasn’t been for a long time.”

The Fargo couple had a front-row seat to the earliest door-buster sale in town. They’re shopping for gifts for their nieces and nephews – “just thing-a-majigs,” as Mandi put it. Behind them, several hundred people were lined up clear past the store and past the adjacent Office Depot. The parking lot was overflowing, and customers started taking spots in the nearby Walmart lot as well.

A few would-be shoppers who showed up late – or too late, anyway – trudged away in the other direction. A group of three women made their way over a snow bank and back toward their cars, dismayed. Are they giving up?

“Hell yes,” said one.

Looking at that line, it was hard to blame them. But that’s not the kind of tenacity that makes for Black Friday success: The Lindleys have been here for three hours – and Mandi is pregnant.

West Acres, midnight

The first wave of shops opening at the mall – mostly fashion stores and boutiques like Gap, Aeropostale, and Bath & Body Works – doesn’t have the same kind of camp-out, shove-through-the-crowd specials as the big-box retailers.

But this group offered its own advantages. In the first place, 800 people aren’t competing for the same 15 television sets. In the second, you get to wait indoors.

And by Black Friday standards, the wait is mercifully short: The corridors are packed in the minutes leading up to midnight, but the lines dissolve as soon as the early openers are in business.

Then again, getting in these stores is the easy part – the real trick is getting out. It’s hard to make it from one end of the store to the other without getting up close and personal with other shoppers. People are trying things on in the middle of the crowd, and registers are overrun by customers bearing merchandise by the armful.

Brittany and Daina Kolstad manage to emerge from Gap with a few bags of clothing in hand. The sisters are Concordia students from Montana. They’d been planning to travel home for Thanksgiving but were thwarted by a week of bad weather.

Their consolation prize: a chance to experience the post-Thanksgiving shopping rush for the first time.

“We’re from a very, very small town,” said Brittany. “Black Friday doesn’t exist for us.”

Until now, that is.

Sears, 3:30 a.m.

Amid the bustle and chaos of the mall and surrounding stores, Bill and Kathy Torrance, huddled outside Sears, may have found the smartest spot of the night.

They got there at midnight, but they probably didn’t need to – despite substantial sales on televisions and appliances, the store attracted only a modest crowd. A few hours before the opening, the Torrances were alone at the northwest door (at the same hours, the Moxie Java and Orange Julius kiosks in the mall both had lines of 30-plus customers).

They drove down from Winnipeg to shop, but even with the four-hour trip, they’re sinking less time into this outing than some shoppers caught in monster lines elsewhere. Kathy made the trip last year, but this was Bill’s first Black Friday.

“It’s just like Boxing Day,” he said, referring to Canada’s retail equivalent, which falls the day after Christmas. “But I never do Boxing Day, either.”

His target is a 37-inch flat-screen television.

Target, 4 a.m.

To keep warm over the course of an eight-hour wait, James Parise and Jake Lamb spent the night relying on heat packs and hot coffee. But for a few glorious hours, they also employed a more enterprising solution.

“We had an ice house out here,” said Parise, “with a propane heater in it.”

The two friends arrived around 8 p.m. They were near the front, but weren’t the first to arrive; that distinction went to a shopper who showed up at 2 p.m.

They enjoyed the benefit of the pop-up structure until around 11, when store employees put the kibosh on the operation while setting up the wall of shopping carts that serves as a barricade around the line.

By now, that line is six-deep and bends around the building. Parise and Lamb, who came for televisions, were ready to get inside and thaw.

After clearing out stragglers who look like they have designs of sneaking in the side, the staff swings the doors open, and the crowd thunders through in a near-stampede in pursuit of deals and warmth.

Best Buy, 5 a.m.

By the time the opening bell draws near here, the tents are gone – including the one next to the door. In its place are five young men who’ve spent the past day and a quarter waiting for this moment since arriving late Wednesday night.

They’ve undertaken Black Friday outings for four years running, although Matt Liem, the one closest to the entrance, said it’s the first time they’ve made it to the front.

Liem is standing in a spot coveted by every shopper in sight – and between the ever-growing line and the full parking lot, there are plenty of them. He’s in a position to snatch up every absurdly cheap piece of merchandise he can carry – and it took him (a mostly sleepless) 30 hours to get there.

And he said he hardly wants to buy a thing. He’s planning on getting an external hard drive, but while the price is good, it’s not one of the mega-sales. When store employees come around passing out tickets for door-buster items, he didn’t take one.

“It’s more of a tradition than anything else,” he said.

For his companion Ben Klein, it’s a different story. Klein collects tickets for a handful of the store’s marquee offers – televisions, laptops and the like at cut-rate prices – and readies himself for the main event.

Inside the store, shopping carts are ready and waiting. Each aisle, soon to be pecked over by a horde of bargain-hunting customers, is prim and pristine. The manager moves to the entryway. The employees let loose a Braveheart-esque rallying cry.

And through the doors walks Klein, his arms raised in triumph.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502

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