With Thanksgiving turkey barely settled in their stomachs, many students will leave home in the wee hours of the morning this Black Friday, headed for retail jobs.
Daniel Cline, 24, is a senior marketing and management double major at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. He’s worked the past six Black Fridays at various retail outlets around town, but for the last few years he’s spent the day after Thanksgiving at the local American Eagle Outfitters, a popular clothing chain in the 15-25 demographic. Last year, he arrived there before the sun rose – 11:30 p.m., Thanksgiving night. He was there until about 8:30 a.m.
But his Black Friday didn’t end there. He stepped out into the morning sunshine, got in his car and drove across town to his second job at Best Buy, pulling a 13-hour shift there until 10:30 p.m.
All told, Cline was on the clock for close to 22 hours.
“At the end of the day Friday, I was absolutely shot,” he said. “I went and slept for 13 hours.”
A crowd of shoppers waited outside the Target store in Lisbon, Conn. in November 2011, before the store opened for Black Friday shopping at midnight.
More than the actual workday itself, Cline said he was frustrated by the pallor his retail marathon cast over his Thanksgiving festivities.
“It kinda sucks, because all day Thursday I’m thinking about work,” he said. “I know I’ve got to get some sleep, which cuts into family time. This is really the only time I get to see all of my family together.”
He’s not alone in that sentiment.
USA TODAY reported on Tuesday that stores across the nation are opening earlier than ever before, bringing Black Friday sales well into Thursday evening.
Toys R Us will open their doors at 8 p.m on Thanksgiving. Target stores are advertising that they will open for business at 9 p.m.
These moves have elicited protests from employees and rights groups.
A petition on the popular activism site change.org by user (and Target employee) C Renee asks that Target take the high road, and help stop the “Thanksgiving Creep” of earlier retail openings. At the time of this writing, the petition had over 215,000 digital signatures.
Last week, The Huffington Post covered a similar viral campaign labor organizers are formulating in response to Wal-Mart’s 8 p.m. opening time.
Protests like Renee’s may be in vain though. Black Friday is a huge weekend of spending for U.S. consumers. CNN Money reported last year that a record 226 million shoppers spent a record $52.4 billion over the Black Friday weekend, up 16% from 2010.
Richelle Johnson, 22, is senior psychology and political science major at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and has worked the past few Black Fridays at the Express near her hometown of Kingston, Ill.
Though she won’t be working the Friday shift this year, she said that in the past, knowing she has to wake up at 3 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving has dulled her celebrations, “casting a haze on 8 p.m. and beyond.” She also expressed confusion with the nighttime rush to shop.
“In my experience, the sales we have for Black Friday last the whole week,” she said. “I don’t think anybody else really knows that. Why would you go shopping at 3 a.m. if you can get the same deal three days later?”
Cline felt similarly, but stressed that though the Black Friday hours might be long for a full-time student, he sees an upside to working the shift as well.
“I’ve found that a lot of people combat the fact that it’s Black Friday by trying harder to be nice to workers,” he said. “I think enough people have heard the horror stories of people at Wal-mart.”
But he also recalled a clash that took place down the hall from his store last year. Mannequins were hurled around in a nearby major lingerie store in the opening frenzy, and the employee opening the gate was knocked over.
“We could hear the screams from half the mall-length away,” he said. “This year, they’ve got their own police officer, just for that store … I don’t think it’s worth it for people to throw mannequins just to get underwear.”
With that in mind, as shoppers head out into the breach for Black Friday, Cline had this to say:
“If you’re going out, stay warm,” he advised. “Avoid getting trampled!”
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