Going out into the cold blackness of a late November evening to sit in front of an empty store is hard to justify simply by the money you can save on Black Friday.
Part of the appeal is being swept up in the spirit of something a little goofy, a little out of the ordinary - something that requires suspension of normal, daily pragmatism.
The stores that set this annual event in motion by leveraging people out of the stupor of their post-Thanksgiving dinners are like record spinners at wedding receptions charged with getting people to ditch their inhibitions and move to the dance floor amid relatives they rarely see and in-laws they've never seen.
Mirror photos by Gary M. Baranec
Andrea and David Covolo of Nanty Glo were among the many shoppers taking advantage of Black Friday sales at the Logan Valley Mall.
So maybe it was auspicious that shortly after midnight Friday, Bill Langham of Altoona emerged from Kohl's with a recording device - purchased at a $140 discount - that he plans to use to launch a disc jockey business.
Langham has a small collection of vinyl and a big collection of cassettes - with '50s and '60s music, including Elvis, Patsy Cline and B.B. King - and the recorder will allow him to put it all on CD, the better to play for guests at prospective gigs.
"It's easy with this," he said, holding the handle of a cart on which the box with the machine was perched, as people continued to pour into the store.
Easier and cheaper than paying to download music from the Internet, he said.
Langham was among thousands in the area swarming Altoona-area stores for Black Friday bargains.
He was first in line at Kohl's, arriving about 8 p.m. Thursday, he said.
By the midnight opening, there were 1,500 to 2,000 waiting outside, according to Tyler Grigg, a security officer working the door.
At Logan Valley Mall, around 2 a.m., the crowds recalled the days a couple decades ago when it seemed like the mall was the place to be in this area.
The crowds were bigger than Facilities Manager Lorne Angelo has seen on Black Friday in four years.
It helped that Sears opened at 8 p.m. Thursday and the mall itself opened at midnight, along with 40 stores inside, mall spokeswoman Joy Weidel said.
Angelo was pushing a cart through the first-floor concourse from trash receptacle to trash receptacle, swapping empty trash bags for full ones.
"I'm kind of excited, actually," he quickly said. "This is what we shoot for."
He's on salary, and - having started at 11 p.m. Thursday, expected to be on the job until 11 p.m. Friday, 24 hours.
It will require lots of coffee, he said.
"I go down with the ship," he said, explaining how his 18-member staff will make sure the receptacles don't overflow and the restrooms are clean. "We'll be rockin' and rollin'."
Angelo may have been up to do a long shift, but at least he could argue that it was part of his paying job.
Shoppers Jill Bookwalter of Mount Union, her sister, Tammy Farrar of York, and Farrar's best friend, Noelle Smith of York, had no such excuse.
They were at the mall around 2 a.m., having left Mount Union around 7 p.m. Thursday. They expected to return to Mount Union as late as noon Friday, which would make their shopping trip to Altoona 17 hours.
Still, they could argue that it was a paying proposition.
"Fifty percent off at Hollister!" Bookwalter said.
Forty percent, then 20 percent on top of that off at Justice, she said.
Bookwalter expected to save $300 to $400 shopping for presents for her three daughters.
Farrar and Smith expected to save $200 between them - Farrar on presents for her 12-year-old daughter, who wanted "anything Justin Bieber," and Smith on presents for her 3-year-old son.
"It's family time too," Farrar added.
Overall, it seemed to be a family atmosphere, with little or no trouble, according to the Blair County 911 center and area departments.
"One retail theft," said Renee Milliron, administrative assistant to Logan Township Police Chief Ron Heller, said. "Hard to believe."
It was "relatively quiet," Allegheny Township Police Chief P. Richard Books said. "Heard some rumors. Nothing we got called to."
All quiet, Sgt. John Miller of Altoona police said.
Amanda Noel of Altoona was out in the wee hours Friday, despite having to be up for work at 6 a.m. She was coming out of Toys R Us with her mother, Janis Wilkins, with kitchen sets and vacuum sets for Wilkins' grandchildren, Amanda's kids included.
They bought the sets for $22 apiece, better than half price.
Elizabeth Wertz and John Lake of Altoona were stationed outside Kmart, which seemed strange, given that the store was open for business - until they explained that they were in position to be first at the store's second opening at 5 a.m. for electronics items sequestered from the first rush, which began at 8 p.m.
They'd been part of that first rush too, which netted a diamond ring that Lake bought for Wertz, who showed it off on her hand.
It was $30, marked down from $149.
Obviously, Lake didn't feel the need to pretend he paid full price.
They were with several others, and were taking turns going into the store to get warm, while a few held their place in line.
At Best Buy, which opened at midnight, Travis Carroll and his brother, Chad, had arrived at 2:30 p.m. Thursday to get 40-inch flat screen Toshiba TVs, marked down from $419 to $179.
They brought lawn chairs and blankets, but no food, which was a mistake, they said.
Sandy Detwiler of Bedford bought a griddle and coffeemaker from Kohl's, taking advantage of multiple discounts.
They were originally $39.99 each, but they were reduced to $19.99. There was also an extra 10 percent off, plus a $10 mail-in rebate. So each will ultimately cost "eight bucks," she said.
"I'm a total bargain shopper," she said. "I've been doing this 12 years."
She also bought a deep fryer and a skillet.
The appliances are gifts for her four children and their spouses.
She and sister Nancy Detwiler of New Enterprise - they married brothers - were planning to go to Denny's to eat, then to Kmart, then to Home Depot for its 5 a.m. opening.
Asked if she planned her itinerary in advance, Sandy said, "Absolutely. As soon as that [Thursday news] paper hits."
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.