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REI just says no to Black Friday debacle
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Black Friday will find me at least 100 miles away from the nearest retailer that tries to lure holiday shoppers with $45 color TVs, $100 computers, or $10 blenders in extremely limited quantities.

Instead of battling hordes of sleep deprived and caffeine jacked up shoppers hunting down bargains I’ll be keeping a watch out for mountain lions in a remote Death Valley canyon.

And given my last Black Friday experience in 1994, I’d say my chances of returning home safe are greater by going to Death Valley.

We had gone to Wal-Mart at some ungodly hour only to find a thousand or so other people already in line. Our plan was simple. Cynthia would head for the $45 TV and I was to seek out the latest “must have” Tickle Me Elmo creation. I drew the short straw which meant I had to grab a shopping cart.

The second the door opened the running of the bulls started as the Black Friday locust descended on strategically placed loss leaders. You either moved or got trampled. Much of that morning remains a blur except for an encounter in the toy section.

The Wal-Mart equivalent of gridlock occurred between carts and shoppers. I was still a good 20 yards away from the Tickle Me Elmo display. Then it happened. I was hit in my back with a shopping cart. Before I could turn around I heard a guttural “move.”

To say I was irked would be a slight understatement. But when I finally turned around my annoyance turned to shock. Standing there was a 5-foot-4 gray-haired lady that had an uncanny resemblance to Mrs. Doubtfire with a death grip on the handle of the gray and blue Wal-Mart cart. On her face was one of the nastiest looking scowls I’d ever seen.

I told her there was nowhere to go.

Then she uttered the eight words that caused the mouths of two woman shoppers to my right to drop, “Then get the f--- out of my way.”

One of the two women pulled her cart into a side aisle and the lady hell-bent on getting a Tickle Me Elmo muscled her way past us.

For the past 21 years I have steered clear of any store on Black Friday with the exception of a convenience store.

It is why news this week that REI is closing all of its 143 stores this Black Friday and would take online orders but not process them until Saturday while paying its 12,000 employees to take the day off gives me hope that the madness that’s been created will finally be restrained.

I understand there are many who look forward to Black Friday as an outing with family or friends. That’s cool. But there are way too many instances of people who get carried away battling for items as if they are the last loaves of bread in an old Soviet Union collective grocery store.

In all honesty, REI beats to a different drummer.

It’s a specialty store that targets hikers, bicyclists, rock climbers, backpackers, and generally outfitting people for an active outdoor lifestyle. They probably won’t suffer any significant revenue losses.

And while REI was my favorite store to shop and browse to begin with, their decision to not subject their employees — and their customers — to a shopping frenzy earns them brownie points.

The difference between brick and mortar and virtual shopping should be the experience and the expertise. That all goes out the window when you willingly market toward people driven almost exclusively by price.

The object is to get shoppers in the store. I get that. But it is highly doubtful the crowds would disappear simply because you drop outrageous loss leaders designed to create a buzz by getting people to camp overnight in line. The day after Thanksgiving is a non-work day for many people. It stands to reason people would be out shopping in force given the approaching holidays.

Online options have prompted traditional retailers to spread enticing deals throughout the holiday shopping season. That in itself has reduced some of the pressure on Black Friday.

And while you can’t blame retailers for the behavior of out-of-control shoppers on Black Friday, they certainly don’t help things with insanely deep discounted loss leaders.

Personally, I’d much rather watch my step keeping an eye out for scorpions than deal with less than merry holiday shoppers brought together in cattle drive style prodded by out-of-control individuals.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.