It was dark and cold on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving in 2008 as I left my mother-in-law’s farm outside of Hammon, OK.
At roughly 3:30 am on that Black Friday, I headed into Elk City to see what the crowd of shoppers was like at the Walmart store on the west side of town. The store was scheduled to open at 4 am.
My wife and mother-in-law thought I had gone off the deep end.
But it was all in the name of work, because I had been asked by Clytie Bunyan, then the Business Editor at The Oklahoman, to contribute some color from Elk City for the paper’s annual Black Friday shopping roundup.
I rolled into the Walmart parking lot about 10 minutes before 4. The only spot I could find was at the far fringes of the lot about 100 yards from the store. The rest of the spaces were filled with vehicles.
So, I walked toward the entrance, where hundreds of people sort of jumbled together in not so much of a line but what I would call a crush of shoppers. There was a genuine excitement in the air as they anticipated nabbing the ultimate Christmas bargains that had been advertised to go on sale on an hourly basis.
It reminded me of the incredible lines of folks that used to wait outside the Apple store when a new iPhone was released. A lot of camaraderie.
Folks patiently waited for the doors to open and chatted among themselves. I talked to a few people about what drew them to this store well before dawn on the day after Thanksgiving. They came not just from Elk City but from surrounding communities such as Sayre to the west, Mangum to the south and, yes, Hammon to the north.
In the darkness, I shot what was a poorly lighted photo — it’s at the top of this page — with whatever digital camera I had at the time (not an iPhone) and posted it to my Twitter account.
Shortly after 4 am, the doors opened and the crowd surged forward. I waited a few minutes until it cleared and walked in. There were already lines at the cash register as people claimed televisions, toys and whatever the hot electronic item of the day was.
I sipped free coffee the store offered as I wandered through the aisles and managed to get comments from shoppers and store personnel about the Black Friday shopping experience.
My Black Friday early morning routine remained the same for the next few years.
Looking back on this memory from a distance of 14 years, it now seems like the Good Ol’ Days of Black Friday shopping. Back in those days, grabbing a copy of the newspaper fat with holiday advertising on Thanksgiving Eve was the first stop for most shoppers.
In just a few years, stores started opening ON Thanksgiving Day, so there was no longer the urgency to head out in the pre-dawn darkness.
Now we’ve come full circle. Online shopping has made a big impact on how we approach Christmas buying, and most stores — including Walmart — will again be closed on Thanksgiving this year.
So, I guess early morning Black Friday shopping is back, although in what I assume to be a less frantic manner. A Google search showed Walmart stores are opening at 6 am.
But, check your local listings, as they say. Here’s a link to a story in The Oklahoman that lists opening hours for OKC stores both on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday. (The Wednesday paper this year was still fat with holiday ads.)
Yes, I fondly recall the camaraderie of that crowd of Elk City shoppers in the pre-dawn hours of 2008.
But I’ll still be in bed when the doors swing open this year.