Flash back to before dawn today. Were you wearing your running shoes? Clutching online store coupons? How about newspaper ad fliers? Did you remember to dress warm to ward off the chill while waiting in line?

If you answered "yes" to two or more of those questions, you're probably immersed in Black Friday, the annual day-after-Thanksgiving free-for-all that starts the countdown to Christmas.

Some stores opened last night before the Thanksgiving dishes were dry. Others planned to open as early as 2 a.m. today. Depending on their desired booty for this shopping spree, the crowds may have begun gathering last night to rush through the doors when they opened.

From those pre-dawn hours and throughout the day, thousands of panting shoppers, hungry for the latest children's toy or adult techno gadget have been sprinting to the right display area to grab the goods and be one of the first in line at the checkout counter. Once out of the first store, they quickly jump in their 4-wheel sleighs and power to the next checkpoint for more mischief and gift buying.

Thankfully, I wasn't on the Black Friday schedule at the bookstore where I work part time. But I know today will be very busy and appreciate how critical this day after Thanksgiving is. Black Friday -- so named because it used to be the day on which many retailers' annual finances went from in the red to in the black -- is a revenue bellwether for the upcoming holidays. Sales today often influence how the rest of the shopping season will play out.

I helped co-workers get the store ready earlier this week. There was new college apparel to put out on racks, lots of quirky gifts to place strategically on display tables and more Christmas and Hanukkah books than I've seen in a long time.

Believe it or not, we are not just a book store, especially at the holidays. We're much more. And a colleague shared with me that on Christmas Eve last year the store was mobbed, mostly with men in search of that special gift or card. They were too rushed to shop at the malls and they wanted more specialty items. We're, of course, hoping for a robust shopping season, but will be expecting that large group of last-minute shoppers to push our sales as we prepare to cross the finish line.

I'll be working tomorrow, and I'm sure traffic will be brisk. But I'm quite content, thank you very much, to be nowhere near the store today. And that's how I've always felt about this day. Forget that I'm Jewish and don't have any need to buy my Hanukkah gifts early. Frankly, I just never needed the supposed "rush" that this day creates.

Is anyone going to give me a high five because I bought the first of the new edition Kindle Fires or iPhone 5s? Do I really need to boast that I purchased the first signed edition of a famous chef's latest cookbook for my wife? I could go on and on.

As I've already heard, this holiday season is going to be tougher because of the impact of Hurricane Sandy. Many families, who would have spent that average of $500 or so on gifts, may spend considerably less. So a lot of folks might bypass Black Friday and do their shopping more sporadically and carefully. And that's alright, too.

I plan to do a lot of my holiday shopping at the bookstore this year. I'll be working there well beyond Black Friday, and it's convenient. Both my wife and my parents are avid readers and with my store discount I can shop really well for cookbooks, craft books and history books.

Of course, at some point well beyond Black Friday, I'll make a run to the mall to check out traditional haunts like Macy's, JC Penney and Banana Republic for other kinds of gifts and gift cards. For today, I'll gladly skip the Black Friday run and do "drive bys" instead. I'd much prefer to sip a cup of coffee somewhere and just watch those intense holiday shoppers as they try to beat each other to the check-out finish line.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at steven.gaynes@yahoo.com.