As snow fell gently outside, the cash registers beeped steadily inside as hordes of early risers hit the stores on "Black Friday," a ritual collision between bargain-hunting customers and money-seeking retailers.
Regardless of who is getting the better deal - the retailers or the customers - the Christmas shopping season has officially begun.
Nicole Jacobson of Hanley Falls and Wendy Reisner of Cottonwood were first in line at Shopko on Friday, where the doors opened at 5 a.m.
Photo by Jenny Kirk
In anticipation for “Black Friday” shopping at Shopko in Marshall, scores of customers huddled together in line, patiently waiting for the doors to open.
"We've been standing in line since 1 a.m.," Jacobson said. "I really wanted the MP3 players. I dragged Wendy with me this year."
Jacobson has been getting up for the annual chaos for about six years and finally convinced Reisner to go with her.
"This is my first time shopping on 'Black Friday,'" Reisner said. "You gotta love friends."
A variety of hot-items made their way to the check-out, including jewelry, clothing, pillows, toys, pots and pans, Christmas trees and electronic devices. Fred and Carol Timmerman, of Balaton, were happy with their hottest finds, grabbing Outer Edge snow motos and plasma cars for their grandsons.
"Don't they look like fun?" said Carol Timmerman as she waited in the check-out line for her daughter-in-law Diane. "We got the last two and there were only five total. There's a good crowd."
Even in the 21-degree temperature, crowds of people flocked to the stores. Lois Zander and her daughters, Katie and Rebekah, were bundled up and didn't let the cold bother them.
"We're close to the doors, so we're blocked from the wind," Lois Zander said.
Some, like Mel "Bubba" Lien, of Garvin, dressed appropriately from head-to-toe for the occasion. Lien was clad in brown overalls and was one of the few standing in line that appeared to be warm.
"It was a little brisk out there," Lien said. "There were lots of people with rattling teeth."
When asked why he decided to attend the Christmas-shopping kickoff, Lien replied: "I haven't a clue. You have to be dumb and really hard up."
While every store in America is fighting for precious customer dollars in a still-quivering economy, some businesses expanded "Black Friday" this year to include sales on Thanksgiving Day, when most stores are typically closed. Nationally, Sears was open on the holiday for the first time in history.
Basically forced to re-think its tactics after a temporary employee was trampled to death and four others were injured by an unruly "Black Friday" crowd in New York in 2008, Wal-Mart opened its doors at midnight (12 a.m. Friday) this year.
"Everything was wrapped up or blocked off this year," said Tiffany Harstad, a Marshall Wal-Mart employee. "People could walk around the store or stand by the items they wanted, but they had to wait until midnight to grab them. We don't close the doors anymore."
Frenzied shoppers waited for the cue to begin shopping, and many items were reportedly gone within seconds. Ann Przybilla, of Tracy, doesn't go shopping every year on "Black Friday," but decided to this year.
"I just felt like getting a deal," Przybilla said. "I go when I feel like getting up early. The parking was the worst problem this year."
Przybilla couldn't reveal the hot-item hidden in her shopping cart since it was for her daughter Monica, who was three check-out aisles away with her friend Matt Dieter.
"I feel like cattle in a shoot," said Michael Martin, of the check-out-lines. "My biggest pull for coming to this is my wife. But I'm a crucial part of the team. It's very tightly coordinated. You have to be because there are a lot of people here."
Rosemary Martin joined her husband a few minutes later and had the same perspective.
"You have to know what you are doing," she said. "You also have to know people, so you can find out where to get the coupons for certain items. There's so many it looks like people are commuting to work."
Top must-have items appeared to be flat screen televisions, although countless carts contained DVDs, toys, picture frames, computers and dishes. A few trailers for the larger items were even spotted in the parking lot, so people apparently came prepared. An early report noted that more consumers are purchasing items for themselves this year compared to last, when many did without the "want" items.
Traffic downtown was starting to pick up as mid-day approached.
At Thrifty White Drug, Steve and Barb Glaeser browsed the shelves for potential gems for their grandchildren.
"I don't shop downtown very often, but I like to shop there first," Steve Glaeser said. "Shopping downtown is good for everyone. We're doing a little bit for our grandkids. We have to have priorities, you know, and their lists are pretty long."