As the holiday shopping season officially commences, mallsaround the city and state flood with residents on the hunt for theperfect gift. As a Black Friday veteran, I joined the masses oncemore on the shopping holiday for a bit of retail therapy, thoughthe malls that day provided something more like retailwarfare.

Armed with my most worthy cohorts (mom, sis, and sis-in law), Iloaded up on caffeine to combat the effects of tryptophan and toomuch stuffing, and left the comfort of my cozy bed for the hellishexperience.

As we entered the mall, our eyes were met with droves of evenearlier birds, as they scoured the racks with robot-like precision.In the past, the infamous Friday had been one mostly inhabited bywomen, revved to get a head start on their gift lists.

This year, the aisles seemed more of a mixed bag of shopping types.Alongside these masterful mommies trailed sugar-filled tots,already bored with the drudgery of the activity. Much like thesesuffering babes, men trudged, blear-eyed behind wives andgirlfriends, muttering grunt-like responses to questions like,What do you think of this for (insert random aunt’s name here)?and Isn’t this sooo cute? These tortured few formed bands ofbrothers, silently congregating outside of dressing rooms when giftexcursions went awry.

Soldiering on through crowds that seemed at an all-time high, mycrew and I kept on, pushing past perfume counters where our eyesand noses were assaulted by tacky celebrity fragrances and morethan one aggressive sprayer. Our mission was clear and we discussedstrategies as if facing a battle. We split up and fanned out acrossthe bustling center, unsure of when we might meet again, and howmany casualties we would endure before the day was out.

Two hours later, wounded and out of patience, we would meet againto recap the day in the food court. After a battle of wills tosecure a table, we would tell war stories over fattening mall food,the perfect cap to a diet-destroying weekend.

Who got elbowed for the last must-have Christmas item? Who bravedthe lines at the Apple store? Who regretted this entire excursion?As in years past, we’d vow never to participate in the torture ofthe day, ever again.

Black Friday is the kind of day that can make you fill with a senseof dread at the slightest sound of a jingle bell. Whether you spentFriday morning camped out in a Target parking lot or sound asleeplike a stuffed bird, it is crucial to know when to buy and when tofly.

This Black Friday went on record as one of the craziest in history,with sales estimated at $52 billion. In addition, due to increasedhype about early store openings, there were reports of widespreadviolence and stampedes at stores nationwide. With all this turmoil,it seems that now, more than ever, Black Friday has caused many ofus to forget the true meaning of the season.

Perhaps you were wise enough to skip the torture altogether, infavor of a more local venture. This weekend marked Small BusinessSaturday around the country, and here at home, tons of great localshops were ready with sales and specials for the occasion.

The day was a great success, as evidenced by the crowds spottedhoofing it along Third Avenue on the beautiful afternoon. Afterbraving the crowds on the blackest of shopping days, it was nice toput a little money back into my local economy.

In the span of an afternoon, Ridgeites crossed off entire Christmaslists, shopping on 86th Street for toys and clothes, without any ofthe competitive mayhem of the mall scene. Many stopped in atsmaller boutiques like Cue, Bookmark Shoppe or T&R EnduranceSports to get unique and original gifts for loved ones. Othersnabbed gift certificates from one of any number of amazingrestaurants like Tanoreen or Cebu.

Whether you are still recovering from the trauma of Friday or on aCyber Monday shopping high, consider spending next weekend shoppinglocal. Happy shopping season!

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