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Shoppers walk past a Banana Republic sale sign in the Emeryville shopping district on Black Friday.

Small protests, crowds hit the shopping centers for Black Friday

on November 26, 2012

The Old Navy store in the Bay Street shopping complex near the border of Oakland and Emeryville ended Black Friday with holiday pajamas on the wrong racks, graphic t-shirts on the floor and “Diva” jeans falling off of their shelves. As the day of sales came to a close, employees were preparing for a weekend of more frantic shoppers looking for deals.

“There was a totally long line—like, an around the corner line, across the street, across the crosswalk line,” said sales associate Desiree King, 18, who was at the store when it opened at midnight after Thanksgiving for Black Friday. “People were arguing with each other and trying to get in. It was crazy in here.”

She said the biggest sellers were the “doorbusters,” items on sale from midnight to noon, such as fleece hats for $5, women’s fur-lined Adoraboots for $12 and Sherpa coats for $15. The sales continued throughout the weekend and a constant stream of traffic from Oakland, Emeryville and Berkeley was expected.

San Leandro resident Timothy Leung, 16, said he was definitely planning on going to Bay Street’s H&M and Urban Outfitters stores. “I’m looking for button-up shirts for school, but I’ll pick up anything with a good deal,” he said.

This year saw a national debate over how early the holiday shopping season should begin, with some stores opening at midnight and some even earlier on Thanksgiving evening, requiring employees to work on a holiday. “The employees here were a bit disgruntled, like ‘Eh, I don’t want to work on Thanksgiving,’” King said of Old Navy. “But I guess they ended up thinking, ‘Well, let me just go ahead and do it and get it over with.’”

The East Oakland Walmart saw its share of disgruntlement, too. At 8:30 a.m. Friday, a handful of protesters stood at a table at the entrance of the parking lot holding Occupy Oakland signs and passing out flyers titled “Making Change At Walmart” that criticized Walmart employees’ wages and health benefit plans and accused the company of racial and gender discrimination. A Facebook event, “Solidarity with The Walmart Workers! Black Friday Strike & Direct Action” called for “bay area radicals to organize and SHUT DOWN this Walmart store on black Friday! Stay over night and be prepared for direct action in the morning hours of black Friday.”

Occupy Oakland member John Torok, who was standing at the table holding an Occupy Oakland sign, said he had been at the Walmart since 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving. “There were a lot more supporters and Occupy Oakland people last night,” he said. Though they were expecting more Walmart workers to join them, there were none at the table that morning.

Leila Seraphin, another Occupy Oakland member, said she was hoping that people would take a second to think about their own consumer mentality. “It’s the day after Thanksgiving. I just can’t believe people would go shopping at midnight on Thanksgiving,” she said.

Shopper Castro Valley resident Maureen said she would never go shopping on Thanksgiving—“This greed thing is getting out of hand,” she said—but it was a tradition for her to get Christmas presents for her friends’ kids on Black Friday. “The prices are much better for toys today,” she said, as she filled up her shopping cart with Star Wars light sabers, Barbies and DVDs.

But foot traffic inside the store at 8 a.m. was slow. Toy shelves were packed with pink boxes of dolls, lines at the checkout stands were moving quickly and it was relatively easy to find Walmart employees to ask for help finding something. Some aisles were completely empty of shoppers.

Walmart manager Johnnie Mariscal said that the customers she’d seen had been a lot more cautious with their money this year. “People are really watching it. They’re only really spending when they find deals on electronics and clothes,” she said. “They’re getting smarter.”

She also said that she hadn’t seen too many issues with employees not willing to work; although Walmart workers went on strike in many locations across the country on Black Friday, Mariscal said that the “strike” at the East Oakland store consisted simply of a few of the newer employees complaining to her and other managers that they didn’t want to work, and then going back to work. “This is a job like any other job. You work weekends, holidays,” she said. “Tons of people work on holidays.”

“A lot of people have negative things to say about this store. You have to either take it or whine about it,” she continued. “I just laugh about it.”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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