Last Christmas season on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Black Friday is my annual one-man road trip. I pick one side of Indianapolis; I hit the open road in that direction, leaving family and friends behind; and I enjoy some time alone. Sure, to the average human, rushing headlong into frenzied crowds may sound like the stupidest strategy to achieve solitude. For an introvert like me who draws very little attention and rarely inspires conversation from strangers, it works surprisingly well.
Frankly, I wasn’t sure what to expect this year. I kept my expectations near zero and remained open to the possibility that I might come home empty-handed and down in the dumps. I worried that so many stores opening the evening before would serve to put the “lack” in “Black Friday”. Would all the suspiciously priced sale items be sold out? Would all the store shelves and displays be barren, their wares looted by the Blackest Thursday stampedes? Would the stores themselves still be standing, or collapsed from the wear and tear of consumer shootouts larger and grander than the Battle of Helm’s Deep?
A few stores failed me, but I’m pleased that a few locations catered to my modest whims. Per my personal standards, my trip only lasted from 8 a.m. to noon., at which point I promptly pulled the plug and went straight home. Firm boundaries are a key component of effective self-restraint.
* Radio Shack: When their competitor across the street failed me, Radio Shack accomplished the simple objective of having an advertised item in stock when I asked. Granted, I was a little concerned when I told the greeter of my need — “a 32-gig microSDHC Card” — and the panicky look in his eyes said back to me, “This is only my second day.” Thankfully he was thin enough that I could see around him and spotted the item four feet away. As my way of tipping them for adequate services rendered, I also picked up a super-discounted 36-pack of AA batteries at the front register. Take that, competitor across the street.
* GameStop: A jolly half-off for the PS3 remastering of Kingdom Hearts 1.5, one of several nostalgia items on my son’s Christmas wish list. His first semester at college and away from home has oddly turned his thoughts to the PS2 games he played long ago but barely remembers. Maybe now he can win KH2’s final battle without my doing it for him.
* Barnes & Noble: Their month-long Criterion Collection half-off sale continues, and was partly extended to several other art house films. B&N had also emailed 30%-off coupons to all list subscribers, and choosing what item to discount always beats choosing from a narrow list of selectively discounted items.
* Best Buy: Allowed me to preorder several Black Friday sales items on the Monday before, thus saving me precious minutes of scavenging. Today in-store I was also surprised to find another want-list item on sale that I hadn’t spotted in their flyer. Surprise sales rule.
* Walmart: No, really! By 8 a.m. all the rioters, pugilists, and assassins were already snug in their jail cells, waiting for family to scrape together bail money so they could go home and enjoy the twenty-dollar sweatshop Cuisinart that made the whole incident worth it. By the time I arrived, the place was back to normal, except for the large cardboard kiosk of discount movies and shows. Electronics, shmelectronics — a four-dollar copy of Argo on Bluray was doorbuster enough for me.
* Toys R Us: Ho ho! Just kidding. No one in their right mind goes to TRU on Black Friday. Feverish parents, first-time Black Friday trainees, people who adore being trapped in a six-hour line, policemen assigned to guard duty as punishment — these are their constituents. I tried TRU on Black Friday once. ONCE.
* Office Depot: Known in certain circles as “the competitor across the street”. Though their store was small and well staffed, it took them a few minutes to register my presence. When I gave them the secret phrase “a 32-gig microSDHC Card” as advertised in their flyer, I was informed they were sold out. This was half an hour after they opened. I saw no sign of an actual crowd on the premises. I understand the reasoning behind the fine print such as “while supplies last” or “limited quantities per store”, but if your “limited quantity” was one or less, your store and I are done. I have no problem walking out of a store without buying anything, and trying to bait-and-switch for other, more expensive non-sale items is useless against me.
* Old Navy: Half-off everything in the store! Absolutely everything! SALE SALE SALE! Some of it in my size! All of which was sequestered into one tiny, token Men’s section! WACKY CHRISTMAS BARGAIN DAYS! Barricaded behind the long, long line leading to the registers! BUY BUY BUY NOW NOW NOW! Which might not be so bad if the crowd would let you through! All several dozen of them! All inching forward at the speed of snail! And don’t seem particularly enthusiastic to do so! And who might be there for weeks! On second thought, never mind!
* Kohls: A fraction of Old Navy’s enthusiasm, and with twice as many would-be customers stranded in single-file captivity. Opening early on Thanksgiving evening apparently did them no good in terms of alleviating the crowds ahead of schedule. I had to wonder how many of these folks had been waiting in these same lines since yesterday. Sadly, this wasn’t my first time tossing a Kohls coupon in the trash after a fruitless stop.
2013 Grand Prize Champion:
* Menards: As shown in the above photo, theirs was the only fully packed parking lot I encountered all morning. The majority of their massive floor space was covered elbow-to-elbow with hundreds of eager shoppers, no audible complainers or violent offenders. Sometimes we had to move slowly, but we reached where we wanted to go. All registers were opened, staffed, and moving efficiently. A few times I even witnessed employees restocking items that were running low. And what store does that on Black Friday, right?
This little message at the top of their Thursday flyer may or may not have had something to do with the public’s groundswell of support:
A fair number of us ’round these parts were heartened to see a major corporation flagrantly shaming its rivals for business practices we consider reprehensible. I realize this gesture may not mean much to Black Friday critics and abstainers who condemn the event altogether. To us active participants who strictly observe its established traditions, we greatly appreciate a business that respects and enforces intangible boundaries.
In that sense, my purchase of a ten-dollar toaster wasn’t just a quick appliance replacement. It was my little way of saying thanks.