Twenty years of Black Friday at Walmart, as told by my aunt

by

comment

Happy because theyre not at Walmart?
  • Brian Davies/AP
  • Happy because they're not at Walmart?
My aunt Emily has soldiered through nearly two decades of Black Friday at Walmart. Every year, on the morning after Thanksgiving, she wakes up before the sun even begins to peek over the horizon and descends the hill from my grandmother's house in the old-school southern coal-mining city of Harlan, Kentucky—where she and my mom grew up and my grandmother still lives. She parks her car near the back of a lot the size of Delaware and huddles with the masses, not itching for it, but dreading the opening of the doors. Dreading a scene like this. I got her on the phone for a few minutes to tell me about her Black Friday experiences over the years:

"I usually get up and go around 5 AM, because Walmart opens at 5:30 AM. Waking up that early is exciting. I'm excited and nervous. I've mainly gone for electronics and toys over the years—laptops, TVs, Fisher-Price, Cabbage Patch Kids. I've always gotten what I wanted. Last year they changed it to midnight and this year to 8—the first event started at 8 PM, the second at 10 PM, and the third was at 5:30 in the morning.

"In Harlan you stand out in the parking lot. They yell 'Charge!' and everyone starts pushing their carts, and you get kind of swept along. You see people in their pajamas, you see everything. One year, there was so much shoving a lady got knocked down, and I got stuck and couldn't get through. At another a while back, I had a Beauty and the Beast VHS in my hand and a lady ripped it from me and said, 'I want that.' And she kept it and I didn't. She was a big old rough customer. She asked me if there were anymore, I said no, and she just yanked it from me and walked off. I said 'OK!' I wasn't going to fight with her.

"One of the funnier years, your mother and I went to get a pair of TVs. We got in and she went one way and I went the other, because we weren't quite sure where they were. Whoever got to them first was supposed to stand and wait for the other. This was before cell phones. But the TVs were on both sides of the store. So she was on one side and I was on the other. And we couldn't get to one another. We both had these huge TVs and were surrounded by people screaming and hollering. We waited on each other for about 45 minutes, until she finally came pushing a cart to where I was, bumping and clunking with this big TV half falling out of it. And finally we were able to go.

"People will get four and five and six of something and won't give them up if you ask, 'Can I have one?' They're just hoarding them. A lot of them probably get as much as they can, go back, and resell it. If you try to get in line or cut in front of someone, they'll cuss you out in a heartbeat. I stopped wanting to go probably about four years ago, the year I almost got pushed down. It was dangerous. And I'm short. And people don't care.

"Last year, [your cousin] Rachel and I went to get a laptop, and it was different. You had to get a number for one of the 20 laptops available. If you didn't have that slip of paper you couldn't get one. We went in two hours before and sat on the floor in the back of Walmart with all these people. Hilarious. I had one man offer me money for my slip of paper, because he had gotten there too late.

"I've been three-fourths of the way back in the parking lot, about five across, standing in line. Six hundred people all going in at once. I didn't go till later this year, because your mother didn't want to get up and go. And I didn't want to go by myself. I went by myself in the earlier years, before it got real bad. When we passed by on Thanksgiving night this year, there were four full parking lots that were connected to Walmart's. And there were cars parked out on the road. At 8 PM. It was already that packed.

"[Your mother] and I were in Peebles and some women walked in that had been in Walmart and said, 'That woman snatched that damn thing out of my hand! And I thought we were going to get into an argument and fight! And she tried to take it, and I took it back!' So it hasn't changed. I said, 'Oh, Susan, we've missed it!' See, your mother gets into that stuff. I don't because it makes me nervous. If someone were to actually get into a fight, I would have to leave. I don't do violence. Your mother does."

Add a comment