It was pretty cold outside the South Hill Mall Target at 9:30 p.m. Thanksgiving, when Chris Leppell and his mom, Gail Leppell, showed up to wait for the doors to open on Black Friday.
Chris wanted an Xbox 360 enough to stand outside shivering all night. He’d earned half the early-morning sale price. His mom had come to shiver with him and cover the rest.
Things warmed up considerably at 1 a.m., when Terri Anderson and Tim Shortsleeve arrived with chairs, blankets, and a propane heater.
They settled in and refined their strategy for the pre-dawn assault on cash registers. One son deployed to Circuit City and another to Staples. A daughter stationed herself at Toys R Us. They’d divvied up responsibility for the toys, the GPS, the electronics.
"I have a whole big list," Anderson said.
Actually, that list is smaller than the one for last year’s pre-dawn raids.
"I’ve already warned them that mother is not spending what she did last year," she said. "Things are obviously tighter."
Short funds were all the more reason to show up for the fun of staying out in the cold all night, warmed by the memory of turkey and the anticipation of good deals on board games, DVDs, electronics and all things Miley Cyrus.
Nick Lucara, 14, was about to own Guitar Hero, the reward for a summer of mowing lawns and saving allowance money. His buddy, Zach Bray, also 14, been saving, too, for video games. They’d camped out last year and had enough fun to do it again.
It was the third year for Alyssa Wendt, 16, who wrapped herself in a blanket and cuddled up with her grandmother, Nancy Wendt.
"This is a special time for us," Nancy said. "It’s a tradition. We come and spend time together.
"And meet new people," chimed in Polly Oeung, who, with her friends Sina Men and Myra Lopez-Chhour, had enjoyed getting to know the Wendts, as well as Linda Kalmbach and teen buddies Haley Poppleton and Kristen Herman-Haberly.
Bits of news from other stores traveled up the line. At Best Buy, employees passed out numbers for limited items so people in line would not rush the store and hurt each other in pursuit of bargain plasma televisions. Word was just coming in over car radios that a crowd at a Wal-Mart on New York’s Long Island had broken down a door and trampled an employee to death.
Inside Target, manager Teri Holme had planned for safety. They had clear paths the most popular items. They had enough of those prized goods so customers would not end up fighting over them. They had one well-organized check-out line.
Before the doors opened, Peggy Hesner and Gail Taijeron braced for the rush to $299 televisions, gaming chairs and retro entertainment centers.
"Please don’t run," Hesner said to herself as the doors opened. "Please, please, please don’t run."
The customers didn’t.
They were purposeful, polite, and practical.
Half an hour into the sale, Taijeron was amazed.
"Have you seen their carts?" she asked. "They’re all full of toys and board games? They’re going to have family time."