November 26, 2005 in Idaho

An electric atmosphere

By and The Spokesman-Review
 
Photos by Jesse Tinsley/ photo

Huddled under a blanket by the front doors with hundreds of others, Pete Vas Dias and Jason Shadrick await the 5 a.m. Friday opening of the Post Falls Wal-Mart.
(Full-size photo)

Laptops, DVD players and digital cameras got Cami Dean out of bed and to the Ponderay Wal-Mart by 2:45 a.m. Her reward, in addition to saving hundreds of dollars, was snagging the front of the line along with her sister Tara Cook.

Just minutes before the 5 a.m. opening, the sisters peered through the glass doors, watching employees scurry around to launch the biggest shopping day of the year.

Behind them more than 100 people crowded into the entryway, double-checking lists, revising route strategies and eating Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

“Last year I got a big ol’ bruise on my hip because somebody ran into me with a cart,” Tara Cook said, gazing back at the dozens of carts aimed her way by anxious shoppers feeling the buzz of competition. “It’s a stampede.”

Yet these women, who live in Moscow but were in Bonner County visiting family, know the trick to day-after-Thanksgiving sales – ditch the cart and run as fast as you can up the center of the store to the electronics department.

Their dad, who has polio, wanted to join the shopping madness, but instead gave the girls his shopping list after Wal-Mart told him he couldn’t get a head start.

Tammy Buchmiller and her family have their own strategy. Buchmiller runs for the goods while her mother and mother-in-law drive the cart. “It’s a family tradition and it gets us away from the kids,” said Buchmiller, who planned to hop in the car and boogie to Coeur d’Alene to hit Shopko, Best Buy and Hastings.

The clank and rattle of shopping carts, grunts and “excuse me’s” erupted when the two sets of doors rolled open. Within minutes, a traffic jam led to escalating tempers.

“Do you know where the coffeemakers are?” one woman yelled. Another woman waved an ad flier in an employee’s face.

Another fed-up shopper yelled to nobody in particular: “I just want out of here. I want to go, please. Everyone is crowding downhill from electronics.”

Buchmiller’s cart strategy wasn’t working so well when her mother, Linda Baxter, was seen at 5:08 a.m.

“This is crazy!” said Baxter, who was stuck between toys and electronics. “I can’t get anywhere I need to be with this basket.”

In Spokane Valley, the mood was no less frenzied as some shoppers cut in line and received a few well-placed elbows and a year’s worth of dirty looks.

As Phil Sarquilla of Spokane Valley put it: “This is the season of brotherly shove.”

The National Retail Federation estimated 130 million consumers would go holiday shopping this weekend and spend $23 billion. During the next month, according to the federation, shoppers will spend $439.5 billion on holiday gifts.

Retailers call the day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday,” a reference to the day when stores turn profitable.

Idaho sales usually follow the national trend and are sometimes higher, said Pam Eaton, Idaho Retailers Association president. “Retail was strong this summer,” Eaton said. “It was strong in September and October despite (high) gas prices.”

Bobbie Jo Spahn and Happy Thompson fought the Ponderay Wal-Mart crowd and made it to J.C. Penney before 6 a.m.

The Montana women looked at sweaters and chatted while waiting in line in the more laid-back atmosphere of the clothing store. “We’re caregivers so this is our escape for the day,” Thompson said. “What better way than to go shopping.”

In Kootenai County, the mood was no less frenzied.

Pete Vas Dias of Post Falls waited outside Wal-Mart starting at 10:45 p.m. Thursday – first in his car, then at the automatic doors.

“Good conversation, camaraderie, the local community feeling we’re all looking for,” Vas Dias said half-jokingly, listing the reasons he stood in the frigid night for hours.

The main reason, though, was the HP Pavilion laptop going for $378, about half the regular price. Vas Dias planned to get one of the 60 stacked near the dairy section and head out.

“I’m all about the quick checkout,” he said. “If you get stuck in there, it gets really bad.”

Vas Dias and his friend, Jason Shadick, were among the first to get the laptop. As they made their way to the registers, holding tight to their loot, Shadick warned that he had heard of people whose merchandise was plucked from their hands.

Standing outside Silver Lake Mall in Coeur d’Alene, Ranotta Schmidt recalled the days she took part in the Wal-Mart-type rush, where shoppers would ram carts into each other. Now she prefers the mellower atmosphere at Macy’s.

“I like to be around the crowds and people, just not the pushing and shoving,” Schmidt said.

But in her 17 years of pre-dawn post-Thanksgiving shopping, Schmidt has also seen kindness between strangers: A person in line offering to pick up two pieces of a desired item, one for the unlucky person not in line.

“You’ll get hooked,” Schmidt told 14-year-old Brittany Mills, a first-timer who was shivering in line with her grandmother. “It’ll become a tradition.”

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