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Tales from the Black Friday Ninjas

Some Westchasers celebrate Thanksgiving night by pulling the covers over their heads and relishing their turkey-induced slumber. Others become Black Friday Ninjas.

Millions of Americans choose to participate in the highly competitive consumer Olympics known as Black Friday, where average shoppers display the stealth and cunning of a ninja in order to bring home retail gold. These warriors head out in the dark of night risking a stray elbow to the eye or worse, a shopping-cart wheel to the freshly pedicured toe.

Are the bargains truly that good or is it the thrill of the hunt that brings out the inner ninja? I canvassed the Westchase neighborhoods in search of answers.

For Tracy Urso, veteran ninja and WOW Business Manager, Black Friday is a group effort. “We make a list on Thanksgiving of what we need from each store,” she says. With an average of four families participating, the list can get pretty long. Their strategy: divide and conquer. They procure a store map, target the items in question and branch off. In the end one person is left to purchase the two to three carts’ worth of items they have collected while the others quickly move on to the next store.

Last year, unseasonably cold weather threatened to put an early end to their mission. But these ninjas got resourceful, donning newly purchased Old Navy pajamas while waiting for Target’s doors to open – a Black Friday moment they are still laughing about.

Of course all that work can take its toll. Tracy’s adventure began at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving and ended at 11:30 a.m. on Friday. “I went to my son’s lacrosse game and fell asleep while in the middle of a conversation,” she admits. “Needless to say I couldn’t drive home.”

Fords resident Debbie Steinfeld is also a die-hard Black Friday Ninja, but for her it is a family affair. “My son, Brett and I love Black Friday,” she says. She loves it so much that when her extended family brought up the idea of taking a cruise over the Thanksgiving holiday, she replied, “Are you crazy? I’ve got shopping to do!”

Debbie and Brett begin their planning days in advance by visiting the Black Friday Web sites and mapping out their attack. Brett earned his greatest find, a $99 laptop at Best Buy, this way. “Many of Best Buy’s deals are only advertised online, not in their sales fliers,” Debbie admits.

Another tip from Debbie: when faced with throngs of people, skip the cart. She once sent Brent running for a Wii Fit while she grabbed a cart. “Big mistake!” Debbie advises. Fortunately Brett ran fast enough to get the Wii Fit and just held it until he found his crazy mom trying to navigate the aisles with the cart!” Debbie laughs.

What makes the Steinfelds’ success so remarkable is that they generally aren’t even shopping for themselves. “Our friends know we love to do this, so they ask us to shop for them. We also get great deals to donate to Toys for Tots,” Debbie says.

Sometimes Black Friday success is less about strategy and more about patience. That was the case for April McElroy, a Westchase Elementary teacher and ultra-dedicated ninja. She once camped out at Sears for 14 hours to score a deal on a washer and dryer. Was it worth the wait? “I got BOTH for $580!” April asserts. “And I met new people in the process!”

Angela Hartle, a Kingsford resident, didn’t know what she was getting into; she simply wanted to be a part of the madness on some scale. Angela and her mother-in-law were at Wal-mart at 9 p.m. last Thanksgiving when they noticed a line forming in men’s clothing and found out it was for a $200 laptop deal. “They were going to hand out vouchers at 11 p.m. You could go home and come back in the morning to redeem your voucher. It seemed like a good deal and we thought we would be ‘crazy’ and camp out for two hours,” Angela explains.

Eleven o’clock came and went. Rumors began to spread. The line was suspiciously moved to the jewelry department and a Wal-mart employee came out with a “potty list” (those in line had 10 minutes to return or they would lose your spot). Finally, at 2:30 a.m., realizing there was no going back now, Angela and her mother-in-law dozed off against the jewelry cases.

The vouchers ended up arriving at 6 a.m., precisely when the sale was originally supposed to start. “There was a small rumble when one guy tried to sell his voucher for $100,” Angela recalls. “But all in all, the actual redeeming of the vouchers went smoothly. In a state of delirium, we decided to go to Countryside Mall to do more shopping!”

Ah, a true ninja in the making!

As Angela dozed, Leslie Blaze and Pam Velez, also of Kingsford, were just arriving at Wal-mart. They each had the same goal: a great deal on a 42-inch TV. They quickly discovered that the TVs were located in frozen foods, but by the time they got there, it was too late. Determined, Leslie and Pam branched off and were able to unearth one 42-inch TV and one much pricier 48-inch model. Compromises were made and they headed to Target where Leslie’s trained ninja eye spotted a sales clerk returning one of the coveted 42-inch TVs. Whether the return was due to a change of heart or a declined credit card, we’ll never know. In the end, Leslie was able to chalk up another Black Friday success.

What is Leslie’s plan for this year? “Pam and I decided we will sleep an extra hour and go wait at customer service to see what other big deals people pass on!”

For Fords resident and sometime-ninja Lynne Donahue and her husband Jack last year’s Black Friday started out well and went downhill fast. The Donahues simply wanted a new Christmas tree. They found the tree but when they went to leave, they realized they had been locked within the gates of K-Mart’s garden section. “It was one of those moments when you say to yourself, ‘Is this really happening?’” Lynne explains.

They immediately began shouting, figuring surely someone would be within earshot. Nothing.

Jack located the store phone and attempted to use the intercom feature (“Stranded Shoppers on Aisle 5!”). Finally after a series of randomly dialed numbers, a voice replied. Thirty minutes and one heavily discounted tree later, the Donahues were freed from K-Mart lock-up. When asked her plans for the upcoming Black Friday, Lynne simply replied, “We’ll be staying home.”

Sue Vidmar, a Radcliffe resident, remembers a particularly successful Black Friday shared with a group of close friends. “Our carts looked ridiculous!” she laughs. But the best part of the day did not take place in the stores. “When we were done shopping, we went to each others houses and hid the stash in attics. It was great!” Sue recalls fondly.

In the end, the tales of the Westchase ninjas remind us that Black Friday isn’t about the bargains you find, but the adventure you have in the process. So for all of you Westchasers who are planning to head out this year, whether ninja or novice, I hope you find what you are looking for. More importantly, I hope you have fun.

While I’m pulling those covers over my head.

By Karen Ring


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