Limited reports of Black Friday chaos in North Texas, around U.S.

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by JONATHAN BETZ and Associated Press reports

WFAA and Associated Press

Posted on November 25, 2011 at 11:21 PM

DALLAS – Mark Phillips considers himself a seasoned Black Friday shopper, but he was not prepared for what he faced Thursday night at a Garland Walmart.
 
“All chaos broke loose!” he said.
 
The chaos was sparked at 10 p.m., when he says employees began unwrapping pallets of discounted movies and video games.
 
“They said, ‘Alrighty, everybody go for it,’” Phillips said. “The staff and police officers left and everybody went in.”
 
The 25-year-old college student recorded the scene with his cell phone. In the crush of people, he spotted a woman disappear beneath the crowd.
 
“She was down in the boxes,” he said. “People were stepping on her and pushing on her to get into the boxes. There was one boy who climbed right over her - stepped on her back just to get to the DVDs.”
 
People screamed for help, and eventually the sobbing woman was lifted to safety.
 
“I think it was very dangerous,” Phillips said. “Just makes you wonder, what’s wrong with people? How far are you willing to go for a game?”
 
It was one of countless Black Friday scenes across North Texas. Scuffles broke out as bargain-hunters crowded stores in an earlier-than-usual start to the madness known as Black Friday.
 
One video in Mansfield shows a woman climbing over a vegetable stand to escape a crowd of shoppers. The scenes resembled feeding frenzies - even the displays were ripped to shreds.
 
“They were ripping the boxes apart, throwing things,” Phillips said. “People didn’t even know what they were grabbing!”
 
There were no reports of any serious violence or injuries in North Texas.
 
However, a shopper in Los Angeles pepper-sprayed her competition.

Walmart employees brought out a crate of discounted Xboxes, and as a crowd waited for the video game players to be unwrapped, the woman fired pepper spray at the other shoppers "in order to get an advantage," police said.
 
Ten people suffered cuts and bruises in the chaos, and 10 others had minor injuries from the spray, authorities said. The woman got away in the confusion, and it was not immediately clear whether she got an Xbox.
 
Near Muskegon, Mich., a teenage girl was knocked down and stepped on several times after getting caught in the rush to a sale in the electronics department at a Walmart. She suffered minor injuries.
 
Walmart, the nation's biggest retailer, has taken steps in recent years to control its Black Friday crowds following the 2008 death of one of its workers in a stampede of shoppers. This year, it staggered its door-buster deals instead of offering them all at once. The company also kept its stores open to avoid stampedes.
 
Wal-Mart spokesman Greg Rossiter said Black Friday was safe at most of its nearly 4,000 U.S., but there were "a few unfortunate incidents."
 
The incidents were attributed to two converging Black Friday trends. First, crowds are getting bigger as stores open earlier and stay open later. At the same time, cash-strapped shoppers are competing for deals on a small number of gifts that everybody wants -- tablet computers, TVs and game consoles like Xbox, Nintendo 3DS and Wii.
 
That's a shift from years past, when there was a wider range of must-have items.
 
"The more the people, the more the occurrences," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst with market research firm The NPD Group.
 
For the first time, chains such as Target, Best Buy and Kohl's opened their doors at midnight on the most anticipated shopping day of the year. Toys"R"Us opened for the second straight year on Thanksgiving itself.
 
To manage huge crowds, a Dallas Target erected barricades around its front doors and only allowed in small groups at a time.
 
“Bigger crowds, but [it went] really smooth,” said store manager Clay Campbell. “It went really well.”
 
A Toys"R"Us in North Dallas handed out tickets to hundreds of waiting customers. A line of waiting shoppers wrapped around the building.
 
A record number of people are expected to take advantage of discounts of up to 70 percent this weekend. For three days, starting on Black Friday, 152 million people are expected to shop, either online or in stores - an increase of about 10 percent from last year, according to the National Retail Federation.
 
Thanksgiving weekend, particularly Black Friday, is huge for retailers. Over the past six years, Black Friday was the biggest sales day of the year, and it is expected to keep that crown this year, though shoppers seem to be procrastinating more every year, and the fate of the holiday season is increasingly coming down to the last few days before Christmas.
 
In addition to opening earlier than usual this year, some stores offered to match their competitors' prices, rolled out layaway programs or offered more door-buster deals than last year.
 
Emmanuel Merced and his brother showed up at a Best Buy in New York at 3 p.m. on Wednesday so they could be the first in line when it opened at midnight Thursday to grab a Sharp 42-inch TV for $199.99, a PlayStation 3 with games for $199.99 and wireless headphones for $30.
 
Merced said he likes camping out for Black Friday and figured he saved 50 percent.
 
"I like the experience of it," said Merced, who plans to spend $3,000 to $4,000 on gifts this season.
 
To be sure, not every place was full on Black Friday. With so many major stores opening at midnight, many people stayed up late and shopped early. Then there were those who stuck to their normal routine of going to stores that opened later Friday morning. That left a lull in the hours just before and after daybreak.
 
Rebecca Carter, a graduate assistant, began Black Friday shopping at 11 p.m. on Thursday and left a Chicago Target around 4 a.m. carrying a bag full of pillows. Carter said the crowds were noticeably lighter this year as she and a friend picked up a 32-inch TV for $180 and a laptop for $198, along with toys and pajamas.
 
"It's quiet," she said. "It was shocking."
 
Melody Snyder of Vancouver, Wash., had braced herself for anarchy when she got to Walmart at 6 a.m. but was pleasantly surprised when she pulled into the parking lot.
 
"I got here and thought, `Where is everyone?"' said Snyder, who found some Barbies and other toys sold out, but was still able to find gifts for her three kids.

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com

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