Ready to Shop?

If you’re a Black Friday shopper, you’ve already made your list and checked it twice — probably more like three, four or five times.

You’ve already been researching the ads, studying the maps of deals provided by the stores, strategizing and preparing your plan, and then strategizing and preparing some more.

If you’re not a Black Friday shopper, however, all of this is completely foreign to you and probably seems more than a little strange. You probably have no idea the lengths some shoppers go to in the wee small hours of the morning that day after Thanksgiving, even if you’ve heard news reports of the injuries — and sadly, deaths — that have occurred as a result of the crowds.

If you haven’t been in the trenches with these shoppers, they say you have no idea what it’s truly like. So a few seasoned Black Friday shoppers shared their experiences with The Missourian.

It’s both eye-opening and entertaining. There’s also a few tips they offered, if you’re making your first foray into the midnight madness this year.

Plan, Plan, Plan

Black Friday shoppers who want to walk away from the experience with any of the day’s best deals know the first thing you need to do is have a plan. Smart shoppers begin plotting weeks before they ever leave the house.

These days many stores post Black Friday ads online for shoppers to study early, said Sharon Pruessner, Treloar. But, she stressed, it’s also important to check out the print ads that come out the day before Thanksgiving to learn about any additions to the in-store specials. (There are more than ever stuffed in this issue of The Missourian).

Once their lists are complete, shoppers next prioritize which deals they most want to get so they can determine which store they will go to first, second, third . . . Of course, some stores begin their sales earlier than others, so that has to be taken into account as well.

To maximize your chances of getting any of these specials, it’s best to arrive at the store early — an hour or more before the sale starts, shoppers told The Missourian. Some stores have maps of where the best deals are located inside.

They hand out the maps early to people standing in line, so you can identify where you need to go in the store and plan the best route to get the items you most want. This is why many shoppers suggest shopping with a friend or, even better, a group.

Pruessner takes along her husband, Randy.

“We usually divide up. I go in one direction, and he goes in another. Then we meet up later,” she said. “The more people you have means you can divide and conquer.”

One year — before the dawn of cellphones — Pruessner thinks they may have used walkie-talkies to stay in communication.

The reason the maps are so critical to finding the day’s specials — like blue jeans for $5 — is because the items aren’t necessarily in the department or area you would expect.

Those $5 blue jeans, for example, could be stacked on a skid in the kitchen department, Pruessner noted.

Rules to Shop By

• Almost every Black Friday shopper The Missourian spoke to said it’s counterproductive to try to use a cart at the height of the shopping chaos.

“It will just slow you down,” explained Pruessner, who doesn’t recommend taking anything with you outside of your method of payment — cash, check or charge — in a secure pocket. Leave the coats and jackets at home, too, she recommends.

“It all just gets in the way.”

• Be prepared for the lack of parking. Last year, the Washington Wal-Mart’s lot was so full that shoppers were parking on the shoulder of Highway 100 and walking up the hill.

“I have never seen any store so full as I have seen it on Black Friday at 6 a.m.,” Pruessner remarked.

Lisa (Nichols) Halmich, who has been going shopping on Black Friday since she was a teenager going out for the day with her mother, Brenda, said parking is one of the biggest challenges of the day.

• Read the small print in the ads because some items are not on the shelves waiting for you to grab them, said Pruessner. You may need a ticket to get some items, and the tickets may be given out in the front of the store or customer service, not in the department where the item is, and by the time you figure that out, you can be too late.

• You might want to bring along people in your group who will just stand in the long line that forms rather quickly while you go around the store around collecting your items to purchase.

Husbands are good for this job, many shoppers said, but children, depending on their age, are not. One shopper said her child was frightened being left alone in a line in such a hectic environment.

• If you find that you were too late getting to any of the special deals, start looking around the displays along the check-out line. Many times people grab these items without knowing for sure that they want to purchase them, said Pruessner, and then when they are in line to check out, begin going through their pile to decide if they really want them or not.

If not, they set the items aside on the nearest display.

• A good attitude is mandatory. You have to be able to laugh about it, shoppers agreed.

You can’t get upset if you miss an item that was on

special, or if someone yells at you because you got one of the last items and they didn’t, or if the store staff doesn’t know where an item on special is located — sometimes things are moved last minute.

“You have to pretty much ignore other people’s meanness,” said Lisa Halmich, noting she’s had people push her out of the way so they can get an item before her. She’s heard others yell that people are walking too slow.

“Last year I got hit in the head with a . . . box. I’ve been run into with a cart.”

Those are the reasons why Halmich — who is due to have her first baby Dec. 2 — won’t be going out on Black Friday this year, even though she wants to more than ever.

Best Deals

Judy Halmich, Washington, has only gone shopping on Black Friday twice — both times to get items for her grandchildren. The first year she picked up a Barbie Glamour Jet that was only available at Kohl’s.

Fearing that if she waited until after she got off of work on Friday afternoon all of the jets would be gone, Halmich got up in the middle of the night to be one of the first in line.

She made it to the store in time, claimed a Barbie jet from a shelf in the toy department and jumped in line right away, only to stand there for an hour and a half waiting to check out.

The line had formed that quickly, she said.

The following year, Halmich, undeterred by her prior experience, headed out on Black Friday’s early hours, this time to Walmart, where she stumbled upon a 3-foot-tall princess doll for the same granddaughter. The cost was just $5.

“To this day, she loves it,” said Halmich. “It was bigger than she was at first . . . and whenever she comes to visit (from New Jersey), that doll is one of the first things she wants to play with.”

Lisa Halmich, said one of the best Black Friday deals she can remember is getting a 47-inch TV that regularly sold for $795 for just $295.

They relied on the store map to find the advertised deal, which was a good thing, because these TVs were in the baby department, said Halmich.

This year, she and her husband, Scott, are on the hunt for a good deal on a generator.

Why Do It? Tradition and Laughs, Mainly

It may surprise people to learn that saving money isn’t necessarily the top reason that many people go shopping on Black Friday.

It’s definitely one of the reasons, shoppers told The Missourian, but more motivating for many is the fun, excitement and tradition of it all.

Barb Piontek, Washington, has been shopping Black Friday with a small group of girlfriends for 14 years at least. They do it, she said, as a sort-of girls-morning out.

“It’s a social event for us,” she said. “It started out as a fun thing to see what it was like . . . now we get such a kick out of watching other people act so stupid.

“We get some good laughs, and then we go out to breakfast.”

Even if they are mostly out to have fun, Piontek’s group still studies the ads looking for good deals they may want. She remembers one year in particular that some of the Walmart deals included a food chopper, a coffeepot and a waffle iron.

“There was one lady in line in front of us who was saying, ‘I’ve been here since 8 p.m. last night. I’m getting a chopper!’ ” Piontek remarked, noting the lady didn’t forget about the buddies she had made in line during the wait.

“She started throwing them (choppers) back to us, too.”

Piontek laughed thinking about some of the things she’s seen on Black Friday — people stealing each others carts, a woman who walked with a cane crawling on the floor to claim a child’s scooter she wanted to buy . . .

Although Piontek couldn’t think of any specific deals her group has walked away with, she said they always leave the stores getting exactly what they went in for.

“The main thing we want is a couple of good laughs, and we always get that,” she said.

The same is true for Tiffani Frankenberg, Washington, and the group of about 20 she shops with each year on Black Friday. They go to stores all over Washington before meeting up for breakfast.

Yet as fun as Black Friday is for Frankenberg’s group, an even bigger event is the shopping trip she makes with her mom, aunts and cousins on Saturday. That has been a tradition in her mom’s family (the Pecauts) going on 43 years now.

One year the group actually rented a bus to get to the malls in St. Louis and then ended the day with a trip to Our Lady of Snows.

Another year the women had special sweatshirts made for the trip. Their mother (Frankenberg’s grandmother) had passed away so they had a drawing of her as an angel put on the sweatshirts so she could be with them in spirit that day.

Other years, they’ve made special scarves and pins just for the occasion.

Looking ahead, Frankenberg said she plans to be out there shopping this Black Friday morning, but others said they weren’t so sure. The earlier start time that several of the stores have gone to zaps some of the fun out of the experience.

“Last year the crowds were the biggest I’ve ever seen,” said Frankenberg, “probably because people don’t mind as much staying up late rather than going out at 4 or 5 in the morning.”

Still, these seasoned Black Friday shoppers know if they don’t go, they’ll feel like they missed out on something.

“We didn’t go last year and it disappointed me,” said Pruessner.