Black Friday 2011: Turnout Increases with Midnight, Earlier Openings

Kathryne Dommermuth flipped through the Black Friday 2011 ads late Wednesday night. She had never ventured out with Black Friday crowds, but this year, something caught her eye.

That something was the HP Pavilion laptop with an AMD quad-core A8 accelerated processor -- a $430 price for an item valued normally around $1,000.

Dommermuth also saw that as little as three of the item could be stocked in any Best Buy store. That's when she decided she wasn't only going to be a part of Black Friday, but she was also going to get the full experience.

Dommermuth and her boyfriend, who gave his name as Sean S., packed up and drove to a Best Buy in Danbury, Conn., right away. They arrived around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday night, right as employees packed up and headed home from their shifts.

It's been an adventure, Dommermuth said late Thursday night in an interview with IBTimes. I'm pretty ready to go home.

Dommermuth and Sean may have been the extreme, camping out for more than 24 hours before Best Buy opened at midnight Friday. But here in southwestern Connecticut, they served as the example of a Black Friday that many shoppers said was even crazier and more hectic than usual.

Many stores -- including Best Buy, Target, Macy's, Kohl's, Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic -- opened their doors at midnight this year, marking a shift from their previous typical 3 or 4 a.m. starts.

This rifled the feathers of the companies' employees, but the companies countered by saying consumer demand pushed earlier start times. And many first-time Black Friday customers interviewed confirmed the companies' statements.

Black Friday also set the Twitter-verse abuzz. Eight of the 10 trending topics around 4 a.m. dealt with Black Friday.

Customers said it was more convenient to stay up on Thanksgiving and go out late than try to get a few hours of sleep and go at 3 or 4 a.m. Lines were out the door and around the bend of the large buildings of Target and Wal-Mart in Danbury, and the Danbury Fair Mall was more crowded than ever, said one security guard.

This is definitely the worst it's ever been, said the security guard, who did not give her name because she was not authorized to speak on behalf of the mall.

The Danbury Fair Mall hired a disc jockey to play in the center of the mall, and required most stores to open at midnight. For example, JoS A. Bank, which began Black Friday sales at 5 a.m. at most of its locations, started in Danbury at midnight.

Nicole Eighmy of Oxford, Conn., took the mall's early opening and retailers' sales to get much of her Christmas shopping accomplished. In a little more than an hour, she had already shopped at Victoria's Secret, Justice and Macy's.

It's better, Eighmy said of the earlier start time. If you start at midnight, you have more time, and you can actually get home at a decent time and get something of a decent night's sleep.

At Wal-Mart on Newtown Road in Danbury, meanwhile, the line stretched around the bend and nearly behind the building just after 11 p.m. Wal-Mart opened at 10 p.m. for Black Friday.

One customer drove around the parking lot with a megaphone. His well wishes (Happy Thanksgiving!) turned into genuine surprise at the crowd: Wow, is that the line? he bellowed.

After Wal-Mart, Toys 'R' Us near the Danbury Fair Mall was where Rob and Jen Curnan of New Milford, Conn., made the second of their three stops on the night. They also planned to go to Best Buy. Toys 'R' Us moved up its start time one hour this year -- from 10 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The Curnans have been Black Friday regulars for more than 10 years. Rob said his 5-year-old daughter brought him to Toys 'R' Us, while online news articles and circulating ads brought him and Jen to Wal-Mart and, eventually, Best Buy.

From their past experiences with Black Fridays, the Curnans said the earlier start time was actually better for crowd control.

Two years ago, in our hometown, people were getting trampled, Jen said, alluding to a 2008 incident at a New Haven, Conn., Wal-Mart in which two people died.

On to Best Buy, where Kathryne Dommermuth and her boyfriend Sean, first in the store at midnight, were likely done shopping more than two hours later.

In addition to the laptop, the couple hoped to walk out with three televisions and assorted Christmas presents for friends and family.

Best Buy, though, would be their only stop -- albeit a 26-hour one.

Home, Dommermuth said, when asked what was next. To sleep.

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