Mission: Go shopping

Sunday, November 26, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:30 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008


Shoppers pass in front of the carousel in the Columbia Mall on Black Friday. Many of the most eager bargain hunters flocked to stores before sunrise to take advantages of special discounts.

(BRANDON KRUSE/Missourian)

It was still dark when the special forces awoke. They knew they had to hit their target before daybreak. Failure was not an option. If they were a moment late, their wallets would suffer irreparable harm.

Black Friday — or, for the uninitiated, the day after Thanksgiving — is commonly considered the biggest shopping day of the year. Retailers attract holiday shoppers with incredible discounts, often offered only during specific store hours. In the Columbia Mall, Friday’s action was at Sears and J.C. Penney, both of which opened at 5 a.m., and both of which offered free gifts to their very early customers.

In-the-know shoppers didn’t just show up before dawn. They checked the Thanksgiving newspaper sale fliers in advance and made sure they clipped their coupons before leaving the house. Expert shoppers created plans that started with the time they’d show up to their first destination, the order of the stores they wanted to hit afterwards, and what time they wanted to get to these stores. The most experienced even mapped out where and when to eat to maximize sales shopping time.

Renya Tuliszewski is one such shopper. She and her husband, Stephen, came from Colorado to visit Renya’s mother in Marceline for Thanksgiving. The three were up at 2 a.m. Friday — a time night owls would consider late Thursday — to make the drive into Columbia. Their first target: Sears.

The department store lured people Friday morning with a free $10 gift card to the first 200 shoppers. Renya and her family arrived 30 minutes before the store opened at 5 a.m. The effort proved successful: Renya walked away from the store with a gift card. But before it could be used as a weapon in her hunt for bargains, she was off and running to the other side of the mall, where J.C. Penney was giving away a Mickey Mouse snow globe with purchases. The next hits were Wal-Mart and Toys “R” Us.

“We went to Wal-Mart to get the sale items before they disappeared and before the sale ended at 11,” she said. “We got a three-pack of the Rocky DVDs for $15, and a portable DVD player that came with a case and a car charger for $60.”

And then it was back to the mall, where the Sears card finally saw action. It was used toward Renya’s prized find of the day: A $130 coat on sale for $49.99. After a brief rest outside Target, she, her husband and her mother then headed back inside for a return trip to J.C. Penney before its sale ended at noon.

Though Brenda Wallace and her daughter Becky Bagby got to sleep a couple hours later than the Tuliszewskis, the mother-daughter team woke up at 4 a.m. and headed to Columbia from Moberly to get to Kohl’s for its 5 a.m. opening. Brenda’s other daughter, Jessie Oxford, beat them by 30 minutes and estimated there were a couple hundred people already there. The checkout line a few hours later stretched around the entire store, almost meeting in the middle, the sisters said.

The draw? The family came out looking for portable DVD players advertised for $49.99, but Wallace said she was disappointed to see that she first had to pay $79.99 and then mail in a rebate. Bagby, however, was impressed by the prices for 18-karat gold earrings, which she said started at $9.99.

Oxford said a day of marathon shopping takes fuel. “You have to eat first thing in the morning to keep up your energy,” she said.

Jefferson City residents Lorene Samson and her mother, Robin Williams, said that cell phones make the Black Friday experience a little easier to handle, enabling a divide-and-conquer strategy.

“Cell phones are great,” Williams said. “You can be at one side of the store and checking in on what the other person’s getting so you don’t have to run from one end of the store to the other.”

The two awoke at 5 a.m., drawn first to the Jefferson City Target for a $10 vacuum cleaner that was sold out by the time they got there a little after 6:30 a.m. The crowds drove them out of the store and over to the Jefferson City Wal-Mart for movies and other sale items. Then they trekked to Columbia to hit Bass Pro Shops in search of presents for the guys.

Marching in groups of two and three, women were the leaders of the battle for carts and the thrill of the day’s sales chases. Most were in too much of a hurry to slow down and talk, explaining that they were in a rush to hit the next sale.

Samson compared Black Friday to a recent trip her husband took.

“The guys get to go deer hunting, and we do this instead” she said, “This is our version of a deer hunting trip.”

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