By Anne Stanton
TRAVERSE CITY —
Kidshan Gurgun, 17, and his friend, a very pregnant Bobbie Hutchinson, 18, sat by their tent hours before kickoff to the holiday shopping season.
They huddled against a brisk wind and falling temperatures Thursday afternoon as the clock ticked toward midnight. Five more hours until they could wade into Best Buy.
Gurgan’s mom, aunt, and 10-year-old cousin completed the group of five who had camped there since Tuesday afternoon, using bathrooms at Speedway and Best Buy and their cars for napping.
“We had pizza and hotdogs for Thanksgiving. Gas station pizza,” Gurgan said.
Like others in the line, their thoughts were on a 40-inch, $179.99 Toshiba television. Hutchinson also mulled her chances of going into labor. She was one day past due. Her mother didn’t think camping out on a Best Buy sidewalk for two nights was the best idea.
“I told her, ‘Well, look at this way. The hospital is way closer’,” said Hutchinson, of Mancelona.
Folks from as far as Sault Ste. Marie and Jackson put down their Thanksgiving forks — or never picked them up — to take advantage of the creeping Thursday and midnight Black Friday sales. Earlier in the day, friends and family dropped by turkey dinners for the lucky ones.
Jayne Tomas, 55, who works for the Canadian postal service, drove down from Sault Ste. Marie. She also wanted the 40-inch Toshiba.
“It’s also a day to spend with my 28-year-old son, so it’s a bonding experience.”
The only downside is that it didn’t seem like the tailgate experience of old, since many stayed inside their tents, she said.
Joanne Tuck, 56, a human resources worker, was around the building corner. She only wanted a $10 wireless mouse and a $13 chill pad to keep her laptop cool.
“I really can’t believe I’m standing out here for something like that. But I got my meal in and my nap. My husband was turning on another football game. I said, ‘See ya!’”
To avoid stampedes of previous years, Best Buy and other stores on Thursday issued “tickets” to folks for the hottest items. That pleased Toni Shananaquet, who also camped out.
“Last year, there were people in the parking lot and they bum-rushed the door when it opened. Now they have a police officer and security guy. It can get ugly,” she said.
Dad goes one way, mom another
Over at Toys R Us, shoppers calmly waited in line as wind whipped the police tape. A security guard ushered in 50 at a time.
Heidi Gorsuch, 39, and her husband planned to Christmas shop with their two sons, ages 6 and 11, in tow. The family stood in line for about 40 minutes.
“They’re going with Dad,” Gorsuch said when asked how they were going to keep the gifts a secret from the kids. “Dad is going one way and I’m going another.”
Shoppers swamped Wal-Mart with sales that revolved throughout the day and late night. Shoppers lined up hours before the sale started. Once they got their sought-after item, they waited up to an hour to pay for it.
There were no protestors at Wal-Mart, as there were in other parts of the country.
“It’s just another day,” said Dennis Ashley, a store employee.
He worked Wednesday from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Thursday. Then he returned to work Thursday at 6 p.m. for a shift that would stretch to 3 a.m. Friday.
The chaos made shopping confusing, but Brandey Schultz, 30, had an “inside scoop” for a Hot Wheels Jeep for $89, and knew right where to go, thanks to her husband, a Wal-Mart employee. The store had only five Jeeps total, including three blue models. She bought the Jeep and went back in for more.
“There’s nothing horrible to report, beyond some pushing and unhappy people,” she said.
‘People are so mean’
One of them was Sara Deschler, of Traverse City, an insurance agent.
“I don’t remember it being this busy last year. I came for the sheets, but they only had 40 or 50 sets,” Deschler said. “There are pros and cons of Thursday night. I don’t know. People are so mean. They all want the same thing. I was waiting in line for a camera. It was taking so long that I got out my phone and bought the same camera online at the Wal-Mart website.”
Derek Bailey, former chairman of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, stood in the long line while his wife, Tonia, flitted through the store to pick up items and drop them into their cart.
Thursday night seems different than early shopping on Friday, Bailey said.
“Unfortunately, I think this is how it’s going to be. They’ll see the turnout. It worked. But with five children under the age of 15, it does add up.”
“That’s why we’ve got to go,” Tonia said. “To get the good deals.”
Tim Malcomson, 18, a student at Kirtland Community College, scoured Kmart earlier for a 32-inch television for $97, but didn’t get it. He is not fond of the ticket system.
“One guy gets trampled and dies and ruins it for everyone.”
“I was so mad. We were so mad. We were way back there; we weren’t even close,” said his girlfriend Johanna Hayden of Houghton Lake.
Back at Best Buy, campers were asked to fold up their tents a couple of hours before the store opened at midnight, a big chore for the second group of seven college students.
They had lived in a sort of tent “condominium” and played X-Box and watched television, thanks to a generator. Samuel Plamondon, 22, a culinary student, cooked breakfast burritos Thanksgiving morning with scrambled eggs and homemade duck sausage.
With him was Nathan Holtrey, 21, a creative writing student on break from Grand Valley State University.
“It’s like a camping trip with your best friends and at the end, it’s a great sale,” said Holtrey.
But the ending was stressful. The first group of five — Gurgun, Hutchinson and three relatives — almost got kicked to the back of the line when a friend stopped to talk to them. Fortunately, a store manager stepped in and believed them when they said the friend was just there to chat.
The group was awarded five tickets for the 40-inch television, leaving only one ticket for the college students. Holtrey let his friend, Plamondon, take it.
The door opening was anti-climactic. There was no shoving. A security guard counted shoppers as they went in. Those with tickets for hot items went to different locations throughout the store to claim them.
Some like Amber and Eric Campbell didn’t get any tickets, but enjoyed themselves.
“We drove from Jackson. It’s a lot safer. No trampling,” Amber said.
At Target, the clock ticked toward 1 a.m. and the crowds had thinned.
Mary Halsey, a retiree from Des Moines, headed back to her car.
“My feet are so tired I can barely walk. I’m done,” she said.