Alicia Mies and Laura Sieh

Black Thursday

On a chilly Thanksgiving evening, for Bay Area residents waiting in line at entrance 1 of the Great Mall in Milpitas, Black Friday begins on Thursday night. Full from meals of turkey and cranberry sauce and cold from the crisp air, men, women and children mill over the provided Black Friday catalog, waiting patiently for the mall to open at 6 p.m. sharp.

What used to be a harmless day of low prices and late night shopping has quickly evolved into an atmosphere of aggressive shopping tactics — so much so that in many places, Black Friday now begins on Thanksgiving night. In Milpitas, Great Mall opens at 6 p.m. on Thursday and closes at 10 p.m. on Friday, a window of 16 hours in which people sacrifice time with family for inexpensive shopping.

Shopping for Boots

“I saw it online and I thought that I’d just try it,” Nga says. “It’s just for fun.”

Near the beginning of this long line is Nga Vu and her daughter Kim Vu. When asked for an interview, Nga is reluctant because of her rusty English, but she holds on the Kim affectionately. Kim, also shy, immediately yells, “BOOTS” in response to what they will be buying this year. Although their intentions seemed clear, Nga insists that they’re  at the mall for the experience

Nga and Kim are yin-and-yang — as Kim latches onto her mother, she finishes her sentences for her and is clearly excited about the following night of shopping.

Relationship Obligation

Further down the line are Gladis and Paul, residents of Union City. Dating for six months, Paul insists that he’s not there to buy shoes or jackets.

“I’m just going with her [Gladis],” Paul laughs. “I have to.”

Like Nga and Kim, Gladis and Paul are first time Black Friday shoppers. Because they are novices, Gladis doesn’t really have an idea of how the long the lines will be and therefore, how effective shopping will be.

“It seems like there are going to be a lot of people inside,” Gladis says. “We got here at 4 p.m. and there was no line and thirty minutes later, the line was really big.”

Game Stop Shop

Beside the 50 meter long line to the entrance of the mall is the 5-person line awaiting admission to Gamestop.

In this row of people is Jason Servania, a resident of Sunnyvale, who is conversing with a young boy and his father. Servania, clad in a Texas Tech University sweatshirt and San Francisco 49ers hat, talks to those around him about different “first-person shooter” games. Unlike the Nga and Kim Vu and Gladis and Paul, Servania goes Black Friday shopping every year, usually to Best Buy.

“I’m not a pro though,” Servania says. “I’m still an amateur, but I’m learning.”Although Servania has routinely shopped at other stores, this is his first year shopping at GameStop.

“I’m shopping for my cousin,” Servania says. “[He likes] first-person shooters, action, any kind of game.”

Hiding from the Cold

Red light illuminating from the movie listings are a sign of an sanctuary from the cold of the late November night. Inside the movie theater, kids play with a promotional mix-and-match type structure for the new Zoolander movie. Besides a few boys and their fathers taking part in arcade games, most are waiting, thumbs scrolling down pages on their smartphones.

The Guard

T-minus ten minutes before the door opens and Eric Emmanuelle, a police officer guarding the doors, shouts that the mall will be opening soon

When we ask to take his picture, Emmanuelle, tells us that he wants to look tough and tucks away his coffee behind his back. His job seems to consist of telling mall employees to enter through the “door number four” and keeping customer morale high.

Despite the seemingly huge line, Emmanuelle says, “There are not a lot of people here, very few.”

Emmanuelle shouts, “You know the drill. Make sure you’re walking, or you’ll have to get the end of the line!” Soon enough, the doors open.

We expected an ambush of people, each scrambling to get to the lowest price the fastest. Instead, everyone follows Emmanuelle’s demands and calmly enter the mall.

Shopping Rush

Inside is a slightly different story — as people are released, some begin to run. After Emmanuelle yells reminding them that there is “no running in the mall,” they settle for a frantic speed-walk. However, most coolly look around and start to wander, looking for cheap prices that may catch their eye.

Some remnant of traditional Black Friday shopping is certainly present — loud cries of children, long lines for underwear stores and store employees shouting about their deals and steals. But people are mostly calm, mostly there just for the experience. 

By Abercrombie, Ben Landis’s voice fills the air as he shouts, “Come on in! 30 percent off everything!” A cheery “whoop” follows.