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Sherri Richards, Published November 27 2009

Retail employees share Black Friday war stories

The day after Thanksgiving, Colleen Flynn-Odney simply tells new Target employees to stand back and watch.

It’s quite a sight to see the lined-up customers storm the store, she says.

But, also, it’s for the employees’ safety. Those customers run. A couple of years ago, they broke the Fargo store’s door.

The rush of this shopping holiday known for rare deals on popular retail items is a craziness that Flynn-Odney, guest service team lead at the Fargo Target, says she loves. Today is her 10th Black Friday.

“I have this energy because it’s exciting,” she says. “We are here. The season is upon us. We are in it and we are going to start it off right.”

She likes to talk to the customers and see what they’re buying. She sees the same groups come back year after year in search of bargains. They decorate themselves.

“People are so nice and jovial in those early morning hours,” she says.

Believe it or not, store employees say Black Friday is a day they look forward to – even if it begins at 5 in the morning.

They huddle up for a pep talk before the doors open. The morning flies by. And there’s always food in the break room.

“There’s no way they can go to the food court and get food that day,” says Mark Piller, store manager of the J.C. Penney store in West Acres. He says the store provides employees breakfast, lunch and dinner.

J.C. Penney opens at

4 a.m., so Piller gets there around 2 a.m. But preparations for Black Friday really begin Wednesday night, because most stores are closed Thursday.

“We’re here until midnight Wednesday, signing, pricing, maintenance cleaning,” Piller says.

He says his role Friday is to “stay out of the way.”

“Last year I spent a lot of time … handing out candy canes to keep all of our customers happy and in a good mood,” he says.

He says the store purposely schedules its more seasoned associates for the first shift. They’re able to handle 4 a.m. better.

Some younger employees will try to stay up all night instead of getting up early, Piller says.

“We don’t advise that,” he says. “We advise trying to get a good night’s sleep.”

The store relaxes its dress code for the day. Comfortable shoes are necessary footwear.

“We have to be speedy,” Piller says. “We have to help (the customers) on their way as quickly as we can.”

Customers are in a hurry. They want to get the store’s advertised special and get to the next store, he says.

Two years ago, several of J.C. Penney’s “doorbusters” were located on the second floor, Piller says. When the doors opened, people started to run up the down escalator, which faces the mall entrance.

“That is very difficult to do,” Piller says. “We were all having heart attacks watching them. They’re going to fall. We’re going to have problems.”

Now, someone stands at the bottom of the down elevator, directing people to the other side.

Molly Lange, store manager of the Kmart in Moorhead, says her store’s system of handing out tickets for the hot items eliminates most of the in-store madness.

“Most people are pretty good that come into the store. I don’t see a lot of angry shoppers,” Lange says. “I’ve had people who are at the end of the line who aren’t happy because they didn’t get the item they wanted. But there was a line. I’m not sure what they wanted us to do.”

Actually, the craziest thing Lange has seen on a Black Friday could have happened any day of the year. A toddler got her leg stuck in one of the shopping carts.

“It was crazy anyways and then I’m getting a page up to the front checkouts. I’m thinking it’s something with merchandise,” she says. “I went and got a bottle of hand lotion. We kind of lubed up this kid’s leg and we were able to wriggle her free.”

This will be Lange’s third Black Friday as store manager. She says they’ve been gearing up since September for Black Friday.

Lines at the checkout are her biggest concern. They train employees in advance, and have a fall-back plan.

“We’ll open up all of our registers,” she says. Additional staff will be on hand to bag and help carry out larger items. “It’s all hands on deck to make sure,” she says.

Retail employee tips for shopping on Black Friday

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556