Though a number of local stores were happily packed with Black Friday shoppers the day after Thanksgiving (and Thanksgiving night), whether they were illegally overcrowded can’t be known now.
Neither is it possible to know whether a given store was illegally crowded simply because its parking lot overflowed to the point that customers had to park in nearby lots.
Neither the Riley County Police Department nor the Manhattan Fire Depart-ment received any formal complaints about overcrowded stores on Black Friday. But as it turns out, even informal complaints can be enough to bring attention to the issue.
Certainly, the occupancy ordinance that’s enforced against taverns in Aggieville ought to be similarly enforced in other establishments, whether they’re big box stores or mom and pop shops. The fact that it might be more difficult to count heads in Wal-Mart’s supercenter, where overcrowding begins at the 5,893rd person, than in an Aggieville tavern with just a small fraction of Wal-Mart’s capacity isn’t supposed to matter. Neither should it matter that folks in aisle 12 on Black Friday are likely to be more sober than folks at the bar on Fake Patty’s Day or the night of the KSU-KU game. If the law is worth having on the books, then it’s worth enforcing.
But informal complaints that one or more local stores had more occupants than the law allows fall well short of being evidence of violations. Those complaints might be enough, however, to encourage city commissioners to revisit the ordinance, perhaps with regard to the potential chaos if evacuation were complicated by such hazards as obstructions in shopping aisles.
We’re not sure that’s necessary. As Ryan Almes, deputy chief of the Manhattan Fire Department, noted, the fire department has issued written reminders to store officials of their responsibility to maintain legal occupancy. He also pointed out that it is difficult for a store to have enough customers at one time to exceed its occupancy limit. Legal occupancy at Best Buy, for example, is 896 people, and Target can legally hold 3,568 people. Target can feel pretty crowded with one-third of its legal occupancy.
Given the yellow flags belatedly raised about overcrowding on Black Friday, we would expect store officials next year to closely monitor their occupancy, aware that police and fire department officials also will be paying attention.