As we head into Thanksgiving I want to make something very clear:
I hate Black Friday.
I hate it the way you hate a former lover who you come to realize was just using you for one reason or another.
I hate it the way you hate that drunk uncle down at the end of the Thanksgiving table who keeps babbling about how “Trump was robbed”.
I hate it the way you can only hate something that you put up with for thirty plus years of retail life even though you hated it and thought it silly.
For the first part of my business career I was a retailer. I was a retailer because my family had been retailers. My father owned retail stores, my grandfather owned a retail store, I’m sure if I searched back far enough I’d find out my family tree is littered with pushcart peddlers peddling a plethora of profitable products particularly pots, pans, and pantaloons.
I get my alliteration gene from my ancestor Schmuel the schmaltzy schmoozing schmendrake.
The first time I heard the phrase Black Friday I was probably six or seven, visiting my father’s stationary store in Hempstead New York on the Friday after Thanksgiving which at the time was a day off only for students and teachers. Did I become aware of it from signs in the store advertising “Black Friday Sales”? Had I seen the phrase bandied about on television or radio? No, Black Friday was a inside joke, a knowing nod to how the rest of the year sales made accounted for our “nut”, the money you needed to earn just to keep the lights on, pay salaries, and give the government their cut. From the day after Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve the money made was the retailer’s profit for the year. Thus, we were going into the black, money wise, hence Black Friday.
Somewhere along the line our little inside joke became a national holiday/mania. Traditions among families sprouted left and right. Mom and her daughters getting up at 4AM to be at the mall, credit cards clenched tightly in their fists, for the incredible bargains that had been hinted at but never advertised during the weeks leading up to the third Thursday in November. This allowed Dad and sons to not only indulge in tryptophan induced coma sleep but to, upon awakening, indulge in the traditional post Thanksgiving breakfast of mashed potatoes and dressing formed into thick pancake like discs and fried. Serve with a side of jellied cranberry sauce. Extra points if the can’s ridges are still visible in the jelly.
Fess up, you’ve made it, just admit it and move on.
I’m sure your family had it’s own traditions, even if it was just the tradition of laughing at the lines of people waiting to get into Best Buy as you drove home from dinner on Thursday. That was my family tradition.
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Then about ten or twelve years ago the dam burst. Large corporate retailers like the aforementioned Best Buy, or Wal-Mart, or Target began to leak their Black Friday sales starting anywhere from a week to a month ahead of time. At first the leaks were whispered. You had to know a store manager to get them. Then you had to know the double secret website that collected the information and disseminated it in ASCII block print with no search functions, just hours and hours of scrolling. That’s when the big boys decided to hell with the idea of not letting people know in advance about the deals. They started announcing what the deals would be in advance. Then they started making the deals available to anyone who wanted to pre-purchase the products. Then they gave up the whole charade and announced that Black Friday deals would be available for the entire Thanksgiving week. Then the month of November. Then came the “Black Friday in July” sales in, well, July.
As well as leaking the deals early many retailers tried to get the jump on their competitors by opening up earlier and earlier on the Friday after Thanksgiving. What had once been a day of tradition laden shopping that started a little earlier than usual in short order became an event that began at 12:01AM then at 6PM on Thanksgiving, and finally now many stores aren’t even closed on Thanksgiving. Give your thanks to the universe but your money to Kohls. And that turkey? It’ll keep until tomorrow.
The more the big retailers changed the rules of Black Friday the more it benefited them and hurt small retailers. How can a local electronics store compete with Best Buy on Black Friday when Best Buy is opening at 6PM Thanksgiving Day, staying open till 10PM the next day, and putting on a huge advertising blitz for a month before? The only ways are to have a lower price and working your employees those same hours, but even having a lower price is a slippery slope. Yeah, you’ve got a better price, but if Mom already bought Dad that electronic doodad he cut the ad out for and stuck up on the fridge she’s not going to return it to the Big Box and go buy it from the Little Guy, she doesn’t have time for that. Nor the inclination. The little guy’s better price doesn’t matter at that point. Besides the employees are so exhausted from working 17 or 18 hour shifts they probably couldn’t find that doodad for dad in the dadgum department.
And then came the internet. And the advent of Amazon. And sitting at home and pushing buttons to make purchases. And oh yeah, forget Black Friday, we have Cyber Monday!
To all of this I would like to say just two words:
Especially this year, don’t go running out this coming Friday to some giant retail big box store or sit in your ugly Christmas pajamas and scroll through Amazon. The big box stores and Amazon don’t need your money. They make plenty of money all year long, the last six weeks of the year is hardly when they go into the black. They’ve all been in the black since that “Black Friday in July” sale.
You know who isn’t in the black for the year yet? The little toy store on Main Street you ducked into one time because you forgot your kid was going to a birthday party. The local jeweler who you’ve gone to a couple of times to get a new watch battery. The hardware store where the old pros who walk the aisles in their aprons or smocks told you exactly which pipe you needed. The clothing store who put something aside for you. The furniture store who put together for free that chair you bought. Any number of stores that strove to keep their doors open and keep paying their employees through the most difficult economic conditions since the Great Depression.
They deserve your holiday spending money. No, I’ll go further. They have earned your holiday spending money. They have earned it by remaining your friends and neighbors. They didn’t get the big PPP loans only to spend it on a new set of rich man’s toys. If indeed they were able to get a loan they used it to make sure they’d be there on the other side and not replaced by yet another Starbucks. They did everything they could to keep the doors open, stay in business, and keep people employed. They are heroes to be honored this holiday season.
And all they ask is that you buy something from them. It’s the least you can do to say “thanks” this Thanksgiving.
We’ll go out on a little something from the guy my mother-in-law always called “that kid with the whiney voice”. It’s all about being in the black.