Black Friday lived up to its name last year, and not because it pulled retailers out of the red.
A temporary Walmart worker in New York was trampled to death during a post-Thanksgiving store stampede.
In Charleston, vandals glued the locks on 70 King Street businesses the night before one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
This year, merchants and police are changing their approach.
Walmart stores, which typically have one set of doors for customers, plan to focus on three key areas: customer approach and entry into stores, customer flow through the stores and near promotional items, and flow through checkout aisles and away from stores.
"We are committed to looking for ways to make our stores even safer for our customers and associates this holiday season," said Daphne Moore, director of corporate communications at Walmart.
In Charleston, merchants such as David Dumas of M. Dumas and Sons clothiers hope for an increased police presence the night before Black Friday to thwart a repeat of last year's glued locks. The incident caused a store employee to throw a cinder block through the door so customers could get into the King Street shop to take advantage of early-bird specials.
"If it happens again, we will be on national news that entire weekend," Dumas said half-jokingly. "That's the best publicity we could have gotten. You can always replace the door. You can't replace the sales."
The city will be ready, Charleston police public information officer Charles Francis said.
"We have plans in place for all of our teams for the holidays, and we will be diligent throughout the city to ensure that it's a great holiday for all businesses," he said.
The day after Thanksgiving has been dubbed Black Friday because it kicks off a frenzied shopping period when retail merchants go from using red ink in their financial ledgers (representing losses) to black ink (representing profits). It's also a day when many people are off work and looking to get a jump on holiday bargains.
The combination of hot sales and overly eager shoppers can be so explosive that the National Retail Federation issued guidelines to help with crowd control.
With retailers under pressure to offer promotions that stand out in a lackluster economy and consumers eager to get the best prices, "the appetite for deals and bargains is elevated," said Ellen Davis, vice president of the Washington-based trade group.
For planned promotions, such as limited offerings of deeply discounted items or early-bird giveaways, the federation suggested plenty of communication with everyone from mall management to local law enforcement.
Dress rehearsals for sales events, extra security, tickets and wristbands for customers waiting in line, portable toilets and even entertainment before the store opens can help.
Putting an employee outside with the customers to get to know them as they wait in line might smooth things over more easily when a product is no longer available.
Among the early promotions, Belk at Mount Pleasant Towne Centre will offer free scratch-off gift cards to the first 250 customers when it opens at 4 a.m., according to shopping center marketing manager Kristi Tolley. The shopping center will offer mystery gift cards of $10 to $500 for Towne Centre merchants to the first 200 shoppers at Barnes & Noble bookstore.
Retailers are advised to make sure someone in every store has authority to make decisions as unexpected developments occur.
At Citadel Mall and Northwoods Mall, marketing director Leigh Burnett said shoppers are usually there before the doors open. But she emphasized that crowd-control problems aren't an issue because there are multiple entrances. Also, the mall and its anchor tenants open at different hours on Black Friday.
"Unlike Walmart, people don't wait to get in one set of doors," Burnett said. "There are so many choices on ways to get in and out, it breaks the crowd into manageable sizes. Plus, opening times are a little staggered so it eliminates that sort of thing."
For instance, the two malls will open at 6 a.m., but major anchors such as Belk and JC Penney will open at 4 a.m. Sears plans to open at 5 a.m. and Dillard's won't open until 8 a.m.
"The mall environment is different than the Walmart environment," Burnett said. "Still, we will have security in place just in case."
Walmart's usual door-buster specials start at 5 a.m., but most Walmarts will be open 24 hours, including Thanksgiving Day, so the rush won't be at the doors. The customers already will be inside the store. To ease crowd control, hot items will be placed at different locations instead of one.
"We are confident our customers can look forward to a safe and enjoyable experience," Moore said.
Stores and shopping centers that typically draw big crowds on Black Friday will open at different hours Friday. For stores not listed, call them or check their Web sites.
Northwoods, Citadel malls
Malls: 6 a.m.-10 p.m.
Belk: 4 a.m.-10 p.m.
Dillard's: 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
JC Penney: 4 a.m.-11 p.m.
Sears: 5 a.m.-10 p.m.
Target: 5 a.m.-11 p.m.
Mount Pleasant Towne Centre
Most stores: 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
Bed, Bath & Beyond: 6 a.m.- 9:30 p.m.
Belk: 4 a.m.-10 p.m.
Old Navy: 3 a.m.-midnight
Tanger Outlet Center
All stores open 12:01 a.m.-10 p.m.
Kohl's: 4 a.m.-midnight
Dick's Sporting Goods: 5 a.m.- 10 p.m.
World Market: 7 a.m.-10 p.m.
Walmart Supercenters: Open 24 hours, including Thanksgiving Day, but sales specials don't start until 5 a.m. Friday. The Walmart on James Island will open at 7 a.m. Thanksgiving Day and remain open until 11 p.m. Friday.
Kmart: 6 a.m.-11 p.m.
Best Buy: 5 a.m.-10 p.m.
HH Gregg: 4 a.m.-9 p.m.
Some King Street stores
Apple Store: 8 a.m.-10 p.m.
M. Dumas & Sons: 6 a.m.-8 p.m.
Saks Fifth Avenue: 8 a.m.-7 p.m.
The Shops at Charleston Place: 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Cynthia Rowley: 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
Open Thanksgiving Day
Big Lots: 7 a.m.-8 p.m.
Dollar General: 7 a.m.-6 p.m.
Dollar Tree: 9 a.m.-3 p.m. (some stores)
Family Dollar: 8 a.m.-3 p.m.
Kmart: 7 a.m.-9 p.m.
Michael's: 5 p.m.-9 p.m.
Old Navy: Noon-7 p.m.
Reach Warren Wise at 937-5524 or email@example.com.