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Shoppers, stores start Black Friday with a sprint
A line forms along the sidewalk at Target on Thursday evening as shoppers prepare for Black Friday deals at the Shallowford Road store. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

For many, the Thanksgiving meal acts solely as fuel for the sprint that is Black Friday shopping.

And the starting gun goes off earlier and earlier every year.

This year, a handful of stores opened their doors for sale-searching customers as early as 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. But the preparation and crowd control starts hours earlier.

Kim Winkler, the front end zone manager at Gainesville’s Walmart, is handling her 12th Black Friday. She says her store, which started its sale at 8 p.m. Thursday, is ready to handle whatever shoppers throw at it, but the atmosphere in the store is always a little different over the holiday.

“We’re a little bit nervous about it just because the sale is so spaced out,” she said. “We’re just worried about keeping coverage for all the sales.

“You always have a surprise, but we have pretty good plans and everything is mapped out.”

Shoppers started lining the aisles of the store as early as 4 p.m.

Lane and Katie Sharpton unfolded their lawn chairs at 4:30 p.m. and were first in line to buy a Wii.

“I’d rather sit here for awhile and pay less,” said Lane. “We’ve been waiting years to get this.”

Across the aisle, R.J. Simmons was holding his spot at the front of the line for a 40-inch television set. He’ll end up waiting almost six hours for the deal.

“I’m waiting for the price,” he said.

Last year, Simmons stood in the same line and walked away with a TV. He came back to grab another one to complete the pair.

“If I had gotten two last year, my wife would’ve run me off,” he said, adding that this will be his last Black Friday shopping outing. “After (this year), I’m going to quit.”

But it seems stores are getting more organized, setting up specific lines for different sale items and providing additional security for the potentially frenzied event.

Gainesville Police Department officers were placed at both Walmart and Target, something they said helps keep the shoppers and the stores peaceful.

“We’re here to keep the peace and make sure everyone enjoys this joyful shopping day,” said Cpl. Joe Britte, a spokesman for the department. “It’s the biggest shopping day of the year, so we want to make (sure) everybody’s experience is a joyful experience.”

And shoppers are paying attention. Many take their Black Fridays seriously.

“Times are hard,” said Valerie Swafford, who waited hours to get into Target, which opened its doors at 9 p.m. “You got to save what you can especially when you have two kids.”

When those doors open, she said, it’s every person for themselves.

“It gets crazy,” said Swafford. “(When the doors open), oh yeah. You better get out of my way. I’m getting what I got to get.”

Walmart shopper Cheryl Styron, who was waiting in line for a 60-inch TV, said she’s not new to the Black Friday experience. But her first few hours of waiting in line have been fairly quiet compared to years past.

“This is the first time I’ve waited in line,” she said. “I’ve been shopping (on Black Friday) before, but nothing like this.

“I haven’t heard any gunshots or anything. I thought about wearing a bulletproof vest,” she said, laughing.

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