'It's about the tradition': How these suburban shoppers embrace the art, thrill of Black Friday
Black Friday shopping is not for the faint of heart.
So says Kelly Miller, whose power-shopping prowess prompted friends and family members to dub her the Queen of Black Friday.
"You have to have stamina and staying power," said the self-proclaimed shopaholic.
When Miller heads out early Friday, she will be joined by more than 158 million Americans -- 2 million more than last year -- who are expected to shop over the Thanksgiving weekend, according to the National Retail Federation.
Erin and Mike Chapa will be among them.
"We finish Thanksgiving dinner, leave the house at 8 p.m. and don't come back until 8 a.m. the next day," Erin Chapa said of the tradition the Schaumburg couple established about 14 years ago.
The heyday was the era when stores opened at midnight, she said. There was a sense of camaraderie among the shoppers waiting in line for the doors to open, a group of people "crazy together" who shared a common goal to be home by the time the masses started shopping.
Among their most memorable Black Friday buys was a camera that retailed for $1,400 which they purchased on sale for $600, she said. She also recalls crawling under the legs of fellow shoppers with cartridges for a computer-controlled cutting machine used for arts and crafts projects.
Many years they carried their purchases home in their 2001 Mazda Protegé packed to the roof with gifts, leaving Erin to fit herself into whatever space was available.
"Every year she would crawl into a nook for the last drive home," Mike Chapa said.
Their families indulge them, sharing ads for Black Friday deals and watching their three children -- a 6-year-old and 14-month-old twins -- while the couple complete their mission. They return exhausted, with just enough energy to wrap the presents.
"It's one day of crazy and we're done," said Erin Chapa, adding that she and her husband avoid shopping malls the rest of the season.
Make a game plan
Kelly Miller says it's a day she lives for. The Schaumburg woman says she has shopped on Black Friday for 21 years.
She begins strategizing a month or more before her annual excursion: scanning ads, making a list, checking sizes. She then maps out a route based on the item she most wants to purchase.
Heading out about 10:30 p.m. Thanksgiving night, Miller starts with stores closest to her home, then expands her search outward to stores including Target, Walmart, Ulta Beauty, Kohl's and others.
She returns home about noon Friday.
She advises using a cross-body bag to keep hands free. She also recommends carrying a fully charged cellphone and keeping water and snacks in the car to refuel. And she cautions shoppers to stay alert and be aware of their surroundings to ensure the experience is a good one.
Lastly, she urges people to be patient and kind.
Like the Chapas, Miller says the hustle and bustle, the camaraderie and finding the ideal gift matters almost more than the deals. According to the retail federation, 58% of Thanksgiving weekend shoppers are motived by deals "too good to pass up," while 28% are motivated by tradition.
"The crowds don't bother me. To me, that's always been the fun of it," said Miller, who chronicles her experiences on Facebook and in memory albums.
She describes her experience as joyful and her fellow shoppers and store employees as polite, helpful and courteous.
"That's why I'm OK going out and being among all those people. It has been pleasant for me," she said.
Erin and Mike Chapa say standing in line, goofing around with other shoppers, helping them out and being helped in return is part of the fun.
Most enjoyable is the thrill of the hunt.
"I don't know how else to put it," explained Mike Chapa. "When you have a game plan and things start falling in line, there's an endorphin rush."
A family event
For Kara Kendrick, that rush begins at 4:30 a.m. Friday, when her Volvo leaves the garage for the Fashion Outlets of Chicago in Rosemont, the Black Friday destination of choice for her family.
More than 40 relatives from nine states converge on Kendrick's Elmhurst home for Thanksgiving dinner, part of an extended holiday weekend. It begins with a pizza party on Wednesday, includes a turkey trot Thanksgiving morning and concludes Saturday with either a visit to Chicago or a trip to pick out the Christmas tree.
The ideal window for Black Friday shopping is 5 to 8 a.m., according to Kendrick. By 5 a.m. the overnight shoppers have left and the daytime shoppers haven't yet arrived.
"That's the perfect time," she said.
After meeting for a photograph at one of the stores, members of the group go their separate ways.
"We meet back up at different times," said Kendrick, who completes about 50% of her holiday shopping on Black Friday. "We finish with lunch at 1 p.m. and talk about all our great deals, or not."
For her, Black Friday will always be more about family than commerce.
"I could be done (with shopping) and I'd still go anyway," she said. "It's not about the sales. It's about the tradition. It's about being with my family and closest friends."