Fights, tents, swarms of people: What Black Friday in America looked like at peak chaos

Left: Trey Hoffman rests while waiting in line for the 5 a.m. opening of a Target store on Nov. 27, 2009 in Fort Worth, Texas. Right: People place their purchases in a car trunk on Nov. 29, 1996, in Albany, N.Y.

Just a few years ago, the words “Black Friday” would conjure images of frenzied shoppers packed into stores like sardines and hunting for the best bargains. But the traditional kickoff to holiday shopping season now looks starkly different.

Black Friday, which falls on the Friday after Thanksgiving, has been known as the unofficial beginning of the holiday shopping season since the start of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924, according to BlackFriday.com. In 2022, the unofficial U.S. holiday falls on Nov. 25.

Consumers’ increasing preference for online shipping, amplified in 2020 at the onset of COVID-19, has made waking up at 3 a.m. to wait in two hour lines far less common.

Images of Black Friday’s bygone era show mayhem in crammed stores, parking lot fights and tents lined up with crowds of people. Do you miss it?

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Security guards break up a fight between shoppers waiting in line just as the doors open for Black Friday 2012 in Bowling Green, Ky.

Customers line up outside of the Toy R Us store at 5 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 25, 2005, in Anderson, S.C.

Frankie Lee, first in a line of several hundred shoppers spending their night outside an Oakland, Calif., Walmart on Nov. 28, 2008.

Lauren Arnold reads a book in her tent as she lines ups with others outside a BestBuy store in Laurel, Maryland, on November 25, 2010 for "Black Friday" shopping.

Beverly Casso takes a moment to re-organize her cart in an isle at the Super Target store shortly after it opened at 6 a.m. in Shreveport, Louisiana, on Nov. 26, 2004.

Shoppers rush into an Oakland, Calif., Wal-Mart as the store opens its doors at 5 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 28, 2008. Several hundred people lined up over night awaiting Black Friday deals.

Children wait with shopping bags inside Macy's department store on Black Friday Nov. 26, 2010 in New York City.

Nowadays, many major retailers like Walmart and Target are offering discounts throughout November, and most closed on Black Friday in 2020 for the first time in a decade.

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A national survey about holiday shopping of more than 1,000 consumers published this year highlights the decline of the Black Friday “experience.” It found that just 32% of people said they will shop in-person on Black Friday – a decrease from 35% in 2021 – while more than 80% of consumers said they will shop during Cyber Week 2022. Most major retailers adopted Cyber Monday Week by 2016 to offer a variety of deals over several days, according to Investopedia.

The majority of people, 64%, will shop on Cyber Monday – an increase from 45% who said they’d shop on Cyber Monday in 2021.

Spending for the mostly-online event is expected to fall amid record-high inflation, but physical retailers could see a boost, according to the survey. Even so, nearly half of consumers said shopping malls will be important for their 2022 holiday shopping needs.

Of the retail locations respondents reported they’ll visit in-person on Black Friday, 62% said Walmart, 58% said Target and 34% said shopping malls.

Kristen and Mike Lacoste, from Cumberland, R.I., drag a 42 inch Plasma television to the cash register at a Sears store in North Attleboro, Mass., Friday, Nov. 27, 2009. The couple woke up at 3:00 a.m. to take advantage of black Friday holiday shopping deals.

Trying to keep toys from falling from a shopping cart in Tacoma, Wash., on Black Friday 2009.

Shoppers wait in the check out line during a Black Friday sale at Nebraska Furniture Mart in Kansas City, Miss., on Nov. 27, 2009.

Shoppers looks for Black Friday bargains at the Glendale Galleria shopping mall in Glendale, Calif., on Nov. 27, 2009.

Zack Zrull of Plymouth, Michigan, walks around Target in Madison Heights with a sign "Buy Nothing" and "What Would Jesus Buy" hanging off his back. Zrull was trying to send a message for "Buy Nothing Day" which occurs int tandem with Black Friday. Zrull was forced to take it off by security as he waited in line with his girlfriend who was doing the shopping at Target on John R in Madison Heights on Nov. 27, 2009.

A large crowd of shoppers rush in the doors of a Kmart in Anderson, S.C., at 7 a.m. on Black Friday, November 23, 1990.

(L to R) Hamid Ghadaki and his wife Hedieh Ghanbari from Toronto, Ontario, sleep during Black Friday sales at Great Lakes Crossing Outlets in Auburn Hills, Mich., on Nov. 26, 2010.

Jim Sorey, from Marlton, New Jersey, shops during black Friday at Kohls.

Thousands of shoppers jam the Arrowhead Towne Center in Glendale, AZ., around 12:30 a.m. for Black Friday bargains.

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