EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — The line for Walmart’s Black Friday “Special Buy” 40-inch $99 flat screen TV stretched from men’s active wear and wound its way through the baby food aisle.
Shoppers waited with empty carts and a mix of anticipation and excitement. Some store associates appeared nervous, waiting for the moment they would be able to unveil the neighboring speakers, drones and cameras from their protective plastic wrap.
Many major local stores began the holiday shopping season Thanksgiving evening, staying open till about midnight only to reopen early Friday offering more drastically discounted prices on select items.
The TV was easily the most sought-after deal at the local Walmart, which opened at 6 p.m. Thursday. Customers positioned themselves and their carts around the flat-screens, cushioned between the clothing and grocery sections, and marked with giant purple foil balloons that read “ELECTRONICS” in bold white type.
Marcus and Chanel Graham, of Mays Landing, came to Walmart just for the TVs. They said it was “crazy” and “ludicrous” when the staff cut open the plastic wrap that held the TVs from the crowd, but it didn’t get physical. @ThePressofAC pic.twitter.com/sFu18pu9Fu— Molly Bilinski (@ACPressMollyB) November 22, 2018
When the 6 p.m. hour struck, the crowd descended upon the stacked TVs, and for a few moments, all bets were off. A man, sans cart, hoisted a TV up into his arms and balanced it on his head as he made his way back through the crowd. A woman yelled from the line near the baby strollers that other customers who weren’t in line were getting a TV before she was.
Within moments, a handful of uniformed officers from the Egg Harbor Township Police Department helped control the crowd, and a store associate delivered an ultimatum: Get in line, or no TV.
Marcus Graham described the hustle for the televisions as “crazy” and “ludicrous.”
Graham and his wife, Chanel, both of Mays Landing, said their only goal for their shopping trip was “to score” a TV. They ended up wheeling two TVs out of the store.
“If you want a TV, this is the only night to do it,” said Shirley Turner, 59, of Egg Harbor Township, who said she was focused on buying Christmas presents for her four grandsons.
The TV deal brought Lamont Harrington, 49, of Pleasantville, out to shop on Thanksgiving for the first time in seven years, the last time he bought a TV.
“If that one lasted me seven years, this one will do the same,” he said.
The National Retail Federation is expecting U.S. holiday retail sales in November and December to increase as much as 4.8 percent over 2017 for a total of $720.89 billion.
Kyle Redmond likes to socialize around the holidays, so he made his way Wednesday to Charlie’s Bar & Restaurant in Somers Point with his girlfriend and two best friends, all Ocean City High School graduates.
“It’s wintertime. It gets dark. You don’t want to sit in your apartment and be all alone. It’s the holidays. You want to see familiar faces, to spend time with family but with friends, also. It’s good to get out,” said Redmond, a 26-year-old Somers Point native.
Traditionally, when students leave the area to attend college, Thanksgiving Eve serves as the first opportunity for them to come back and see their old friends.
But the custom of heading out to a bar or restaurant to toast the start of the holiday season isn’t just for college-age students.
Morgan Mulloy, 24, of Egg Harbor Township, said her dad and his friends always went out on Thanksgiving Eve, so she grew up thinking that’s just what people do.
Mulloy was at Charlie’s with Ashley Fusaro, 30, also of Egg Harbor Township, who grew up one street over from her.
“You go tonight (Wednesday) because you don’t have to go to work tomorrow, and we have to be with our families tomorrow, so, you might as well enjoy it before you get questioned,” said Mulloy, laughing. “Not that we don’t love them. You don’t want to answer all the ‘Why aren’t you married yet? Where are your babies?’ questions.”
In the western part of Atlantic County, patrons of Hammonton’s Annata Wine Bar on Bellevue Avenue filled the venue by 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Most seemed to be there for the same reason.
“You get to see friends from your hometown if you don’t live here anymore,” said Alexis Jones, 25, of Hammonton. “Everybody comes out.”
This sentiment did not just apply to the younger generation.
“It’s fun to visit people again and see familiar faces,” said Paula Carrelli, 54, of Hammonton. “Hammonton is your extended family.”
Carrelli added that earlier that night, she reunited with a friend, who currently lives in Pennsylvania, for the first time in eight years.
Annata is one of the stops in a circuit of drinking establishments people visit on Thanksgiving Eve, particularly graduates from Saint Joseph and Hammonton high schools.
“On a typical Wednesday night, we may have 50 people or so,” said Annata’s Jackie Dolan. “We will probably have a couple of hundred people come here throughout the course of the night.”
Annata usually sells the equivalent of one case of beer during a fall Wednesday night. On Thanksgiving Eve, they will sell multiple cases, Dolan said.
For as long as owner Lynn McIntyre can remember, Yesterday’s Restaurant Bar & Liquor Store on Roosevelt Boulevard in Marmora has served as a gathering place for Ocean City High School graduates on Thanksgiving Eve.
McIntyre, a 1976 Ocean City High graduate, said Yesterday’s probably turned into a meeting place for Ocean City graduates because of its location between Ocean City and Upper Township, where the high school draws its students.
Between Wednesday evening and 2 a.m. Thursday, when the doors close, 500 people may pass in and out of Yesterday’s, McIntyre said.
Yesterday’s employed at least 30 people Wednesday, as if it were a Saturday during the summer, McIntyre said. It is the only day of the year a doorman is hired for each of their two doors to check identifications.
“Everybody goes home for Thanksgiving,” McIntyre said.
ABSECON — The Atlantic City High School sports community gathered Thursday for the first time since the Board of Education chose not to reappoint Gene Allen as the Vikings’ boys basketball coach.
“I think it’s absurd they kind of fired him,” said Nah’Sir Morgan, a 2018 Atlantic City graduate and a Vikings football and basketball standout.
The board voted Tuesday not to reappoint Allen after the parent of one of his graduated players criticized him for several actions, but primarily a text message Allen sent to last year’s team, saying the team did not deserve a post-season banquet. The team ended up having the banquet anyway.
The basketball season is already underway. Allen conducted tryouts Monday and Tuesday. The team is scheduled to practice this week. The regular season starts Dec. 14. Atlantic City athletic director Chris Ford said Elijah Langford, who coached the junior varsity squad last season, will run practices starting next week.
Langford, 26, has expressed support for Allen in statements to The Press and on social media.
Atlantic City fans spoke about Allen during halftime of the school’s annual Thanksgiving football contest against Holy Spirit. Allen did not attend the game.
“Absolutely surprised because of his historic record,” former Atlantic City football coach and Vikings alumni Thomas Kelly said of his reaction to the board’s decision. “I know the type of time he put in.”
Allen led the program to unprecedented heights, winning three state titles. The Vikings had not won a state championship before Allen took over in 2003.
He was 17 wins away from becoming the winningest coach in school history with a career record of 336-101. Atlantic City finished 25-5 last season.
Former Atlantic City athletic director Frank Campo said the board acted without regard for the Atlantic City teacher contract. Allen maintains his employment as a teacher in the district.
“It’s a slap in the face to the Atlantic City community,” Campo said.
Allen is known for his behavior on the sideline, often yelling, gesturing and interacting with players and game officials, as well as pacing the bench.
“I grew up with coach Allen,” Morgan said. “He was a father figure to a lot of people.”
There was talk Wednesday that the board would hold a special meeting to discuss the boys basketball coaching position next week, but those plans have been canceled. The next scheduled board meeting is Dec. 11.
The board’s decision has for now thrown one of the state’s premier high school programs into a state of confusion.
“We’re going to try to do whatever we can to bring (Allen) back,” Morgan said.