Memories from a Black Friday

I’ve already made it clear that I was #TeamBlackFriday. While many of my escapades are minor instances, in my years of shopping, there’s one particular Black Friday that sticks out. And it was one of few times I was on the other side of the madness.

I worked Babies R Us for a little over 5 years. At this time, I was working the cash office, which meant I would come in a few hours before the store opened and balance the tills from the night before.

This was a time in the company when, for whatever reason, they were trying to “separate” the Babies R Us stores from parent company Toys R Us, making them individual brands. A ridiculous idea that ultimately failed, but whatever. It meant that we at BRU couldn’t use anything from TRU – sales, coupons, even gift cards were to be completely independent.

While Toys R Us is one of the kingpins of Black Friday, the whole holiday season was actually a notoriously slow time at BRU. The thought was baby showers were on the minimum, and baby gifts could be purchased at department stores or toy stores instead of making a trip to a specialty store. We didn’t have extended hours, hardly had any sales. It was the atypical retail experience during the holidays.

This fine Black Friday in particular, we didn’t have any special sales. Didn’t open early. It was supposed to be just another day, maybe even a little slower than usual.

Cory and I shopped in the early morning hours, before he dropped me off to begin my short cash office shift. I was locked in the tiny cash office, counting, verifying, wrapping. When the tills were balanced, I was let out to prepare the registers.

As I stocked each drawer, I noticed some people waiting by the entrance. Unusual. We didn’t open for another half hour or so. Seemed like a waste of Black Friday time to me, but hey, who was I to judge?

As opening shift employees came in, they wondered too what the growing crowd was about.

Finally, at opening, the doors were unlocked. And so was the madness.

The people waiting burst into the door, grabbing one, even two, of our large purple shopping carts and bolted straight to the back of the store, leaving us employees startled and confused.

In the back corner of the store was the “Commodities” section – formula, baby food, and … diapers. Diapers are expensive. And babies use a lot of them. A LOT. The diapers where on rolling rack shelves, so the could be fed from the back end down the rack to the front.

The crazed customers whipped boxes of store brand diapers off the shelves. They loaded their carts, boxes stacked as high as they would balance. Once they could take no more, they dragged their loaded carts to the Guest Service register. The woman behind the register, a long-time cashier who didn’t fluster easily, started scanning the boxes. That’s when the first customer started to panic.

“But they’re on sale.”

The cashier looked at the customer, then the register screen. She hit a few buttons, then shook her head.

“No, sir, I’m sorry. They’re not on sale.”

“Yes, they are. It’s the Black Friday Sale.” The edge in his voice was a warning.

“Sir, we don’t have any Black Friday sales.” She stood her ground, but the growing line of diaper boxes spoke another tale.

Our manager finally figured out the issue. So, she tried to explain, “I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t have the same sales as Toys R Us. We’re different.”

Which is a ludicrous explanation. And the customers, desperate to save on this expensive necessity, wouldn’t budge. It took a bunch of phone calls and special permission for us to grant the discount, which had to be entered manually for each box purchased, and only 2 employees, one being the manager herself, had allowances to alter the pricing, meaning only two registers were up and running.

When we got word the sale was on, it was all hands on deck. Not even in uniform since I wasn’t expecting to be on the floor at all, I joined the troops and dashed back behind the diaper racks. We lined up in pairs – one near the warehouse shelves to hand off to their partner for reload. And we reloaded. And reloaded. And reloaded. For just over an hour, we stood back there, pulling diaper boxes off one shelf and shooting them down the other. No sooner would a box hit the front, it would be snagged by a customer.

The only reason we stopped was because we were out of ammo. Completely cleaned out of store brand diapers.

It’s funny to me, that after so many years of Black Friday shopping, the most memorable was this one, where I was called to the line of duty for an unplanned sale.

And it was just as fun, if not more so, than some of my best shopping days.

Not all retail employees are so lucky. Customers aren’t always so patient. But this is just another example of why Black Friday isn’t necessarily the demon holiday some make it out to be.

Everyone always harps on the negative. That people cut short a family-centric holiday to run out and buy cheap TVs and bath towels. And, on its surface, it does seem silly. But if you look past the blatant consumerism, you see people taking advantage of prices they may not see the rest of the year. Trying to make their money go a little further for Christmas gifts, or yes, maybe even for themselves. But in all my years shopping, it was just the crazies. It was teenagers, out with friends. It was women enjoying a girls night/day. Moms and daughters bonding over those $2 towels.

While I’m unfortunately sitting out for the time being, someday, I may come out of retirement and find my place amidst the chaos. I miss it.

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