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Do we really need to brave Black Friday?

Posted: November 26, 2011 3:23 p.m.
Updated: November 28, 2011 5:00 a.m.

A woman in Porter Ranch, Calif., pepper sprays fellow shoppers at a Walmart in the northwest Los Angeles suburb.

“Gunfire erupts at NC mall as early shoppers arrive” -- ABCNews.com.

A similar headline came out of Myrtle Beach.

I knew going after “Black Friday” specials was crazy, but not like this. It’s bad enough that Black Friday shopping crowds are so overwhelming to begin with. Now we have to watch out for pepper spray and bullets?

It’ll be interesting to see what the psychologists, economists and pundists have to say about what happened Friday morning. Is the violence a reflection of desperation on the part of some of those more adversely affected by the poor economy than others? That might be the case in the California incident, but what about the North and South Carolina gunmen? Were they just common thugs taking advantage of “good pickings?”

In the face of such violence -- rare, yes, but still possible -- is it really worth it to go to a department or other store just to battle it out with fellow shoppers? I know I don’t want have to be looking over my shoulder to see if someone with a gun’s trying to take my hard-fought savings. I’ve never been pepper sprayed (and, no, I don’t want a test), but some people have very bad reactions.

According to the Los Angeles Times, one customer at the Porter Ranch Walmart said they saw employees talking to eight people, five of whom “were in really bad shape ... they had swelling of the face, really extreme swelling of face, redness, coughing.”

No thanks.

Even without the pepper spray, that store was already in chaos. Another customer told the paper that “screams erupted after about 100 people waiting in line to snag Xbox gaming consoles and Wii video games got into a shoving match.” It was only 9:55 p.m. Thursday; the sale was set to begin five minutes later.

Why, I ask.

OK, actually I get it -- stores make between 25 and 40 percent of their entire revenue for the year on Black Friday, according one story I read. They do so by steeply discounting merchandise in an effort to get more of us to come into their store and buy more of our holiday gifts from them.

But when did that -- trying to grab the best savings of the year -- turn so dangerous?

The shooting in Myrtle Beach early Friday morning was also near a local Walmart. It appeared to be a robbery gone bad, two men trying to rob a group of people as they were putting their goods in a trunk. A man was hit in the head, a woman shot in the foot. Another woman got out her own gun, fired shots in the air, scaring off the robbers.

The North Carolina incident took place at Cross Creek Mall in Fayetteville, N.C. Those shots rang out around 2 a.m., according to the ABCNews.com story I read. The first gunshots were fired near the mall’s food court entrance; more shots were fired after a suspect ran inside. Luckily, it doesn’t seem anyone was hurt -- no one showed up with wounds at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center.

What can be done? Probably not much. In the future, the Walmart in California, for example, could attempt to control the crowd more. I’m not sure how, and even if they did, I’m not sure shoppers would stand for it.

One of the men in the store Friday morning wishes they’d tried, though.

“They were way too many people in a building that size. Every aisle was full,” the man told the Los Angeles Times, adding that he had to protect his pregnant wife. “It was definitely the worst Black Friday I’ve ever experienced.”

Um, sir, you and your wife didn’t have to go in the first place. I’m not asking everyone to abandon shopping on the day after Thanksgiving. That would hurt the economy further, including local, smaller businesses.

What I am saying is that not everybody’s cut out to deal with crazy fellow shoppers. I know I’m not (and had to work Friday, anyway). I’ve braved Black Friday before and did not enjoy myself. My wife’s braved it before, too, but chose not to this time.

In fact, she did what I thought was a pretty smart thing: went through all the circulars we had in Wednesday’s C-I and figured out there were only one or two items she really wanted to try to get. Only one or two items? It wasn’t worth it, she decided, and stayed home spending a pretty good day with our sons.

So, how are we saving money on gifts this year? I have to admit, we did a bit of online shopping so we wouldn’t have to deal with the crowds. Those gifts have already arrived, stashed in a place my sons hopefully won’t see. We didn’t even have to pay shipping.

There’s at least one more gift I need to order (it’s not available in brick-and-mortar stores), and then I’m sure some other family members will be sending or bringing gifts around Christmas and Chanukka time.

In the meantime, if I could, I’d join some 200,000 people in California who, according to another L.A. Times article, signed a petition protesting the ever-earlier Black Friday shopping hours) as an intrusion on the Thanksgiving holiday, especially for store employees.

According to the paper, those petitioners targeted Target, asking the store to stay closed until Friday morning to allow employees to spend more time with families. Target responded by saying it offered the earlier hours at customers’ requests.

Really? I’m supposed to believe there’s enough of us who want to take advantage of discount shopping on a massively full Thanksgiving stuffed stomach? Riigght.

OK, some people might want to because, like myself, they had to work Friday. I, however, was way to knocked out to handle going anywhere Thursday night.

Besides, are you sure you’re getting the best bargain on Black Friday or even “Cyber Monday?” My wife and I have noticed pretty good deals after the holidays in early January.

Perhaps the best holiday gift of all is a gift card or even cash. They can take advantage of the lower prices without having to deal with the crowds. Or pepper spray and bullets for that matter.

Happy shopping!

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