It’s 10:30 on Thanksgiving night. A line about 100 people long trails from the locked door of the Roseville Galleria GameStop.
Most people queuing up stare at the ground. But one man is jamming out on his harmonica, swaying back and forth as he sits.
They’re waiting for midnight when GameStop opens.
People rush by the line. Someone dressed in a turkey suit waddles by. A couple wearing Viking helmets follows soon after.
“We’re riding into battle,” they tell me.
The couple isn’t exaggerating much. Black Friday shopping at the Galleria was a battle.
Except this wasn’t Black Friday—not yet at least. This was something new.
Many retailers have started the holiday shopping frenzy even earlier by instituting a new day of sales: Gray Thursday.
Rather than opening at midnight on Friday, 83 of 239 retailers at the Galleria opened at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. The majority of the other stores opened at midnight.
And Gray Thursday has caught on.
I have never seen the mall so packed. There was a line of cars at every parking lot entry. Knowing I would never find a spot, I parked at a different shopping center across the street.
Inside the mall, determined shoppers swarmed in and out of stores carrying large bags of merchandise with them.
Most looked as though they were in their late teens to mid-twenties.
It felt like a movie theatre during a blockbuster premiere—it was crowded and late at night, but there was an odd sense of normalcy.
I didn’t see human stampedes and fights over merchandise, for which Black Friday is infamous. I just saw thousands of people hunting for deals as if Gray Thursday were a deeply ingrained tradition.
Cutting It Short
“Why is it so busy?” a passerby screamed.
I asked myself the same question—especially since it was still Thanksgiving.
Considering the protest I inspired when I told my mom that I would leave Thanksgiving at 8:30 to go to the mall, I was shocked to see so many people who were fine with skimping on family time.
“Yeah, we had to cut our Thanksgiving a bit short since the stores opened at 8 (p.m.),” said a woman sitting in line at H&M.
“But if there are good deals out and people are having fun shopping, then I don’t see a problem.”
A pair of teen boys in the line at GameStop thought this mentality was a bit extreme.
They didn’t get in line until 9:30 p.m. to avoid cutting their Thanksgiving celebration short, they said.
“The crazy people are the ones who come right when the mall opens— especially when they wait in line for it to open,” one of the boys said.
Hypocrisy, Confusion and Guilt
“I don’t want to call all of these people crazy because I’m here myself,” said a teen girl at Charlotte Russe.
“I guess I don’t even know why I come. Skipping Thanksgiving isn’t worth it. I’m not even buying Christmas presents. I’m just shopping for myself,” she said.
Okay. At least she was being honest.
Actually most people I spoke to admitted they were doing some shopping for themselves.
As the night progressed, the number of large bags I saw increased. In order to carry all of them, some draped the bags over their backs Santa-style.
A couple walked by pushing a baby stroller packed with bags. The baby had been ousted into the father’s arms.
One man took a break from shopping and sat down with six bags in front of JC Penney.
When I approached him, he looked at each of his bags, and looked up at me guiltily, and then back down at his bags before saying that he didn’t want to talk to me.
Next to the man sprawled a large group of men who looked bored out of their minds. As it turned out, all of them were waiting for their wives.
A 6-year-old son of one of the dads came up to me and said, “I don’t want to be here, but I have to wait for my mommy.”
Jingle Bell Ruckus
By 1 a.m. I became overwhelmed with the noise and energy. People were shouting at each other throughout the mall.
“Hey man, did you get it? Did you get it?” one man yelled to his friend in Macy’s.
“Awww yeah, it’s mine,” responded the friend, holding up an espresso machine.
In Bath and Body Works, a young female employee was shouting at the customers.
“Okay, everybody,” she yelled. “The line is too long, so we’re going to snake it around this way. Follow the jingle bells!”
Shaking bells, she led the line of about 25 people around counters full of 50-percent-off items.
I was already feeling queasy from the Thanksgiving feast I had earlier that day. But all of the noise and perfume clogging the Bath and Body Works air put me over the edge, so I sought a quiet space.
I found one in the Macy’s linens section. There I could hear Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas.” It was inaudible in most other places.
A Pressing Matter
Deciding enough was enough, I started to make my way out of the mall. But then something caught my eye.
Could it be? Yes!
A $40 Bella panini press had been marked down to $10 (after a mail-in rebate)!
A panini press has been on my Christmas list all year, so I quickly snatched it up.
It took me 30 minutes to pay, as all of the Macy’s check-out stands were 10 people long.
So after laying down a Jackson, I hurried for the door.
At 2 a.m., the mall was just as crowded as it had been when I had entered. Parents were carrying sleeping kids in their arms as if they were at the grocery store.
On my way out, I passed The Art of Shaving. It was closed.
In its window a sign read, “Due to the importance of family, holidays and traditions, we will not be open until 6 a.m. Friday morning!”
Nordstrom had advertised on their website that they would be doing the same.
I headed into the cool night air with my faith in humanity slightly restored—and my panini press firmly in hand.