Monday, November 25, 2013

Black Friday

The very name conjures up images of crowded shopping malls, midnight openings, and absolute hell. In fact, the day kicking off the season encompasses everything that Christmas isn't.

Corporate greed enabled by consumers who can't get enough cheap crap tear underpaid retail employees from their families after Thanksgiving dinner. Minimum wage all nighters are mobbed with hoards of sweatpanted monsters salivating over the latest game system they'll be tired of by February, and whatever toy Hasbro has decided overfed American brats are going to demand this year.

So where did Black Friday come from? Was it the brainchild of Macy's, perhaps to capitalize the high left in children following its historic Thanksgiving Day Parade?

No, although Macy's, and every other grand department store, certainly indulged.

Like most American Firsts, Black Friday started in Philadelphia. In the mid twentieth century, Philadelphia was the nexus of the American shopping mall. To this day King of Prussia has more leasable retail space than any mall in the country, even the Mall of America.

Philadelphians coined the term "Black Friday," describing the shopping scene that had swollen to the droves we see today as early as the 1960s. Retailers embraced the pejorative term and its shoppers as a means to put their profits "in the black."

It worked just fine for decades. Stores opened earlier and earlier on Black Friday, but only a select few miserly retailers dared to tread into the sacred Thanksgiving holiday.

Unfortunately over the past few years many retailers have pushed the envelope, perhaps attempting to compete with big box department stores like Walmart, stores that make no bones where their corporate interests lie and how little they care about their employees.

The tactic has been questionably successful. Big box stores in particular, certainly see increased profits by opening on Thanksgiving Day. But protests, boycotts, and social media campaigns have made an impact. Not wanting to admit defeat, many retailers blame online sales and the economic climate for missing their Black Friday projections, ignoring the fact that Black Friday sales aren't available online and the economy really isn't that bad.

It seems Americans may be developing a conscience, one retailers forced on us by displaying overworked employees hopped up on tryptophan struggling to ring up the My Little Pony playset we don't need to buy on Thanksgiving Day.

Like those workers trudging their way through a night of hell, perhaps the consumers who choose to be at Target on Thanksgiving are realizing they should be with their families as well.

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