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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — The “Midnight Madness” holiday sale at Misawa’s base exchange appears aptly named. Army and Air Force Exchange Service officials at Misawa say they expect more than 5,000 people to pass through the store for Friday’s 9 p.m.-to-midnight shopping extravaganza.

During last December’s inaugural “Midnight Madness,” lines began forming between 4 and 5 p.m. When the gate opened, it took 21 minutes for waiting customers to file inside.

Store managers expect an even bigger crowd this time.

“Anticipation with the community is growing,” said Wayne Hansen, Misawa exchange general manager. “It’s more than just a shopping experience. It’s entertainment at the same time.”

The draw is a mix of more than $6,000 in prizes to be given away — including a $4,000, 42-inch Sony plasma television — an eating contest featuring mysterious Japanese food, a 3-hour running marathon for a treadmill and the promise of super sales. Special discounts include a 30-percent markdown on DVD players and $100 off the first 20 Hewlett Packard computers sold. Anyone who wears pajamas gets 10 percent off any one item in the store, AAFES officials said, with a maximum savings of $100.

Judging by last year’s sale, Friday will be an evening in which thousands of customers pursue slashed ticket prices or that last-minute holiday present. Store officials say they anticipate no problems.

“We’ll have our own security in the store, and every manager will be working,” Hansen said. “We have exits all over the store.”

Mike Patmon, Misawa BX sales and merchandise manager, said room temperature inside the 43,000-square foot building will be cooled prior to the sale. The store closes at 8 p.m. for one hour while employees set up.

Special discount items are spaced throughout the store to help with crowd control, Hansen said. While in the past customers have squabbled over who found an item first, Patmon said, last year’s holiday Midnight Madness saw no fights or injuries.

“We did have a lot of people here ... but it was a lot calmer than we experienced the day after Thanksgiving,” he said.

About 3,000 people made purchases during the 2003 Midnight Madness; sales for the night eclipsed $200,000.

Other AAFES stores hold similar sales, officials said. Yokota Air Base near Tokyo, for instance, is to hold a Midnight Madness sale from 9 p.m. to midnight Saturday. But within the AAFES world, Misawa has one of the largest such sales during the holidays, AAFES Misawa officials said.

“We get the community involved a little more,” Patmon said.

American Forces Network’s EDGE Radio 1575 is broadcasting advance word about Midnight Madness, and AFN disc jockeys were to cover the event live Friday night.

Patmon said AAFES officials negotiate months ahead of time with vendors for special deals. The plasma TV is a promotion through Misawa New Car Sales, Sony and the Misawa BX.

On Friday, cash registers are slated to stay open until 2 a.m. Several food-court eateries also are planning to stay open during the sale.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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