© Michael Maloney/San Francisco Chronicle/Corbis
This Friday, 152 million people—that’s half the population of the United States—will flock to shopping malls, big box stores, online merchants and retailers across the country to shell out an estimated $465.6 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.
Known as “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving is one of the busiest shopping days of the year. While the name Black Friday is often explained as the day major retailers "get in the black" and become profitable for the year, etymologists say the term has been around since the 1960s and was originally coined by Philadelphia policemen annoyed by the traffic and throngs of shoppers on the streets the day after the national holiday.
With retailers feverishly advertising bargain basement sales, touting one-day-only offers, and scheduling store openings for the wee hours of the morning, increasingly enormous mobs of raucous bargain hunters have started showing up, camping out, or staying up all night to bang down the doors—sometimes literally—when the store opens. In the last three years, thousands of shoppers and employees have been trampled, pummeled, squished, elbowed, punched, shot at, beaned in the head by flying merchandise and, just once, killed in the ensuing melee. In 2008, a 34-year-old seasonal employee, Jdimytai Damour, died from asphyxiation after 2,000 shoppers knocked him own and stampeded over his back after the doors opened at 5 a.m. at the Wal-Mart on Long Island, New York.
That’s perhaps the worst Black Friday story, but it’s certainly not alone. YouTube videos and shoppers’ blogs detail many an early morning Black Friday stampede, not to mention outright brawls over half-price gaming systems, food processors, toasters and all manner of stocking stuffers.
The Injury Report
Last year, nine people in a California shopping mall were injured, including an elderly woman who had to be taken to the hospital, after a rugby-style scrum erupted when gift certificates were dropped from the ceiling.
In Buffalo, New York, several more shoppers were trampled trying to get into a Target. One of the victims, Keith Krantz, who was pinned against a metal door support and then shoved to the ground, told a CNN affiliate he thought he would be killed. “At that moment, I was thinking I don't want to die here on the ground,” Krantz said.
In Murray, Utah, 15,000 shoppers swamped a mall with such force, the local police had to respond to break up skirmishes and fist fights, and keep shoppers from ransacking stores. Down in Boynton Beach, Florida, a man in a crowd of eager shoppers waiting for a Wal-Mart to open was found carrying a handgun, two knives and a pepper spray grenade.
But last year wasn’t the worst of it. In 2008, a fight broke out between a young girl and a man at another Wal-Mart store in Columbus, Ohio, over a 40-inch Samsung flat-screen television. It was $798, marked down from $1,000. The New York Times reported that the not-so-aptly-named Nikki Nicely, 19, leaped onto a fellow shopper’s back and began pounding his shoulders violently when he attempted to purchase the television. “That’s my TV!” shouted Ms. Nicely, who then took an elbow to the face. “That’s my TV!” The fight was broken up by a police officer and security guard. “That’s right,” Nicely cried as her adversary walked away. “This here is my TV!”
That same year, inside a Toys R Us in Palm Desert, California, two women erupted into a dispute and began punching each other in the face until their friends—unluckily, both men with handguns—entered the fray.
The men chased each other through the toy store, careened around Christmas decorations and half-price electronics, and eventually shot each other to death by the cash register.
(Toys R Us later released a statement saying that although the shoppers’ deaths arose as a result of a dispute, which broke out in an aisle of Toys R Us on Black Friday, it would be “inaccurate to associate the events of today with Black Friday.”)
Two years after that incident, a 21-year-old women who’d been waiting outside another Toys R Us store in Madison, Wisconsin, freaked out, cut in line, and pulled a gun on her fellow shoppers.
Black Friday has become such a blood sport in recent years that even personal injury lawyers have gotten into the feeding frenzy, posting special “Black Friday”-related information on their websites to remind shoppers to be careful—and just in case they’re not, to offer up legal services.
Safety First. And Bullhorns.
In an effort to keep a few would-be clients from personal injury law firms, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a special checklist this year for retailers expecting large crowds this Friday.
So what’s OSHA’s advice? Consider using bullhorns. Hire a team of police officers. Be prepared for “crowd crushing” and “violent acts.” Set up barricades. And, above all else, when the charging shoppers come a’runnin’, stay out of the way.