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December 5, 2013

House of Burgess: (Bloody) Black (and blue) Friday

Shopping bleeds into Thanksgiving, literally.

When I filed my Black Friday column Nov. 21, 2012, “Caveat emptor; seriously, be careful,” I outlined my previous affinity for the traditional beginning of the Christmas shopping season. I still enjoy Thanksgiving, but my fondness for Black Friday waned considerably after the Great Recession hit. After which, both consumers and retailers took the gloves off.

In 2008, a Walmart employee in New York was trampled to death. In 2010, a Wisconsin woman threatened to shoot anyone who questioned her cutting in line. In 2011, a Los Angeles woman doused a crowd assembled around a mound of discounted Xbox systems with pepper spray. All that was bad enough, but what I didn’t account for last year was the consequence of large retailers increasingly breaking with established protocol.

Since 2011, more and more have been opening Thanksgiving Day proper instead of waiting for some early-morning Friday hour. The net impact of this change immediately qualified every retail employee unlucky enough to have to work one of these sales for combat-style hazard pay, if you ask me.

“Authorities believe a disagreement over a parking space led to two people being shot and wounded outside a Walmart in Tallahassee, Fla.,” reported the Associated Press Nov. 23, 2012. One year, later, at another Walmart, a very similar scene played itself out in Claypool Hill, Va. “[Sheriff Brian Hieatt said] two men, Ronnie Sharp, 61, Russell County, and Christopher Jackson, 35, Jewell Ridge in Tazewell County, were arguing over a parking space,” reported WVVA’s Kristen Connor Nov. 28. “This escalated into a threat with a firearm, and then … Sharp used a knife to cut Jackson in the arm, slicing down to the bone.”

Due to the schedule adjustment, now not only were consumers cold and tired from huddling in line, they were also missing Thanksgiving dinner and most of the rest of the day, too. The stakes, already high, were ratcheted up considerably.

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