BAXTER — As Black Friday continues to emerge before Thanksgiving Day is finished, so do the teeming lines of lakes area folks gathering for a good deal — a trickle at first, gradually and slowly, then suddenly it all arrives in a rush.
Lines started to form outside the major box stores about mid-afternoon Thursday, Nov. 28 — with the exception of Walmart, which only closes on Christmas and keeps its crowd in house. Black Friday shoppers told the Dispatch the rise of online retail means crowds are a little less intimidating in terms of size, but it’s still a sight to see when the sidewalks are filled with excited chattering people huddled in the late-November cold.
Talking with lakes area residents waiting in line before Kohl’s and Target openings at 5 p.m., Black Friday sales are viewed as more than a rare opportunity for great deals on flat-screen TVs or Christmas gifts, it’s a cultural phenomenon with its own thrills, family get-togethers and vivid memories passed from one generation to the next.
“It’s a tradition,” said Baxter resident Angie Dischinger with a chuckle. “Eat turkey and go shopping. We’re hunting good deals — clothes, toys, electronics. You get in line with people you’d never talk to and chat about the silliest things. It’s a great time. Then they go drink coffee and shop like banshees.”
“People shopping online are missing this. This is the fun part,” daughter Allie Dischinger said as she hopped up and down and rubbed her arms to stay warm. “My advice? Don’t trip.”
“Two years ago, at Walmart a lady took another lady’s Ninja mixer out of her cart and she ran off with it,” friend Tiffany Berg added with a shrug. “People wrestle over stuff.”
While retail employees gathered inside for one last meeting before the rush and spread out with the somberness of soldiers readying themselves at battle stations, a group featuring three generations converged on Target for what’s been a family affair for decades. Hailing from Paynesville, Pam Ruhoff visited with her daughters, Shelby and Erika, alongside her mother Debby Smudy of Pillager.
For Pam Ruhoff, describing their approach to Black Friday sales had the clipped, all-business tone of a football huddle.
“We can get the good deals,” Ruhoff said. “We have somethings on our radar, so get in there, push our way in, then get in and get out. We’ve got some of our stuff online, now it’s about what we can find in the store.”
What’s the biggest difference since internet retail sales have eaten into the brick-and-mortar presence of box stores like Target, Kohl’s, Walmart and Best Buy? Not much apparently, said Pam Ruhoff, who noted while some aspects of deal hunting have changed, the family-oriented aspects of Black Friday never change.
“Not for us. For us, it’s come home and visit mom and get grandma out,” said Ruhoff, who noted store employees handed out granola bars, coupons and candies this year. “But, there’s a lot less people. The lines used to wrap around behind the building and go the back 40, where’d we sit and say, ‘You go here and you go there.’ We’d divide and conquer and make a whole weekend of it.”
That being said, all the family bonding and warm fuzzies won’t save aisle thieves from getting justice.
“We will slap your hand if you try to take something from the cart,” Ruhoff said with a rueful laugh. “That does happen. It wouldn’t be the first time.”
Over at Kohl’s, a paltry 50 or so consumers waited on the sidewalk up to less than 20 minutes before the grand Black Friday sales opening. The air temperature was about 33 degrees with snow on the ground from Wednesday’s snowstorm. Then they came in a surge. Lakes area residents of all stripes piled out of cars, trucks and vans in the parking lot — many of them bundled up in heavy coats, some comfortable in a sweater and jeans, while some stampeded through the entrance doors in little more than hoodies, knee-high socks and shorts.
As for Erin Karnowski of Brainerd, Thursday’s headlong charge into the clothes retailer had a singular goal in mind: pillows, and lots of them. Karnowski was among the first shoppers inside the building. Within a matter of minutes, she could be found lugging eight pillows through the check-out line.
“They have the best sale on pillows on Black Friday,” said the 15-year veteran of Black Friday sales with a shrug. “It's just a lot of big pillows, it's just bulk. Hey, I’m weird — I like the exhilaration of the big crowds, of a good sale.”