As I stood outside the Concord Kmart, waiting for the doors to open at 6 o'clock Thanksgiving morning, I couldn't help wonder what the pilgrims would think if they could see what we've done to their holiday.
On the day our forefathers set aside for counting blessings, eating turkey and watching football, I was girding to fight a teeming crowd of determined shoppers hungry for unfathomable bargains.
OK, the crowd wasn't really teeming. There were about 50 people -- mostly women, with sleep in their eyes -- standing politely in line, wearing blank expressions and showing no hint of storming the entrance.
The chatty ones were at the front of the line, giddy from too much caffeine. They'd staked out their positions around 1 a.m., a store official said. She recognized them as seasoned veterans from Black Fridays past.
For years and years, the day after Thanksgiving heralded the start of the Christmas shopping madness. Even though in-store holiday decorations start going up about the same time jack-o-lanterns come down, the merchandising push never started in earnest until after the turkey and dressing.
This year, eager shoppers didn't need to wait for Black Friday. Or even Thanksgiving night. Thanksgiving morning was in play. A saleswoman said the store would be open for 41 hours straight -- until 11 p.m. Friday -- proving that it's impossible to have too much of good thing as long as the credit card scanners are working.
So what was it that motivated the bargain hunters Thursday? What lured them from warm beds into the 43-degree early morning darkness? I scanned the 28-page "Kmart Thanksgiving Doorbusters" brochure for clues.
Was it the precious Little Mommy Baby So New doll, discounted from $12.99 to just $5? Perhaps it was the $7.99 nutcrackers and snow globes, marked down from $16.99. You can never have too many snow globes. Maybe it was the 10-by-18-inch Bella electric pancake griddle, slashed from its $29.99 list price to a low, low $9.99 for Kmart members.
When the doors opened, at the stroke of 6 a.m. -- perhaps the manager kept time on his $34.99 Armitron watch (regularly $54.99) -- I watched a swarm of anxious cart-pushers scurry toward the electronics department, where two bug-eyed salesmen braced for the onslaught.
There was considerable interest in a 32-inch, RCA flat-screen LED high-definition TV (available for $179.99 during sale hours; quantities limited). In fact, there was more interest in the televisions than there were televisions for sale. (Remember: quantities limited.)
"You mean I walked in here at 6:02 a.m., and you don't have any more of these TVs?" a woman demanded of a sales clerk, sparks shooting from her eyes.
"I don't have any now," he said, surely wondering why he agreed to this shift. "I might have some at 8 o'clock."
The explanation, it turns out, is that the TVs were available on a first-come-first-served basis. Vouchers to purchase them -- in effect until 8 a.m. -- were distributed to customers outside the front door, beginning from the front of the line. No wonder the veterans showed up at 1 a.m.
Not to worry, as one female shopper said. Black Friday was still ahead.
"Just wait until tomorrow," she said. "This is just the prelude."
Too bad the pilgrims never got to witness this.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.