Black Friday, they call it, and rightly so. The mood was dark Friday morning in the East Towne Mall retail district, where in the wee hours of this, the busiest shopping day of the year, throngs showed up for sales at big-box chain outlets.
The discounter Target (4301 Lein Rd.) was scheduled to open at 6 a.m., and by 5:45, shouting matches were erupting in front of the store. Although a long line of fair-minded shoppers extended the width of the massive building and well into the parking lot, people of a more Machiavellian bent stood a dozen yards from the front door. In the morning darkness, they were waiting to jump the line as soon as the doors opened, and who could stop them? "The line starts back there, guys," someone yelled at them, angrily.
Near the front of the queue, Breinne Wolfe, 28, said the scene had been worse at electronics retailer Best Buy (2452 E. Springs Dr.). She and a group of friends encountered tension there when they arrived at 4:30 a.m., half an hour before the store opened. In search of attractively priced flat-screen televisions, she said, bargain hunters with tents and propane heaters had already staked out the best places in line, and there were arguments when store officials began handing out vouchers for the televisions.
Wolfe got to Target at 5 a.m. What time did she wake up this morning? "With a one-month-old baby," she said, smiling, "I didn't go to bed."
At 6 o'clock sharp, Target's doors opened, and everyone rushed in. After about three minutes, the crowd in front of the store was gone, and the first shoppers had begun to emerge with Black Friday's prize quarry, a 19-inch flat-screen television from the manufacturer TruTech ($179). Inside, a seething mob had formed in the electronics department, where video games and a clock radio that holds an iPod also were flying off the shelves.
Throughout the neighborhood, traffic was bumper-to-bumper well before sunrise, and parking was scarce at discount stores Shopko (2201 Zeier Rd.) and Kohl's (2602 E. Springs Dr.). The scene was quiet, though, in front of the bookstore Borders (2173 Zeier Rd.), which did not open early. (Readers, apparently, prize their sleep.)
Meanwhile, in the downtown shopping district, a broader calm prevailed. At 9:58 a.m., a line of three had formed outside Capitol Kids, the independently owned toy store at 8 S. Carroll St. The shop opened at 10, and by 10:15, a dozen people were perusing the store's collection of tasteful, brightly colored playthings.
Behind the counter, proprietor and longtime Madisonian Peg Scholtes reacted with dismay to news of the chaos at East Towne. "It's pretty scary," she said, shaking her head. "People here are respectful."
So no violence had broken out at Capitol Kids? "We were just thumb-wrestling," allowed Scholtes' daughter, general manager Jenna Hansen. She demonstrated one of the store's hot items, the String Thing ($22), a device that rapidly loops a colorful piece of string in whirling, undulating patterns.
"We've been thanked," Hansen said. "People say, 'You have a place for me to get so much, and it's better than fighting the crowds.'"