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The Villages
Saturday, November 19, 2022

A little history lesson on the origins of post-Thanksgiving ‘Black Friday’

Big crowds in Philadelphia prompted police officers to nickname the day-after-Thanksgiving shopping rush 'Black Friday.'
Big crowds in Philadelphia prompted police officers to nickname the day-after-Thanksgiving shopping rush ‘Black Friday.’

The name was coined by the Philadelphia police back in the 1960s, referring to their often cold, stormy November weather — and the heavy vehicle and pedestrian traffic occasioned by big retail sales. For cops in the City of Brotherly Love, Black Friday was not a term of endearment by any means. In the ensuing decades, the media in many U.S. states and cities picked up the term, and it caught on. It has even spread to Canada. For retail store workers, this marks a season of less time with their families. It means long days standing on sore feet dealing with sometimes demanding customers. But for retail managers and executives, Black Friday has come to mean “black ink.”

Although some large retail chains, like Wal-Mart, succeed in making profits almost every quarter, many do not. They might operate at a loss — ‘in the red’ — in the highly competitive buyers’ marketplace — until November. This refers, of course, to the red ink entries in their accounting ledgers. Black Friday marks the turning point when retailers shift to profitable times — and ledgers are again “n the black.”

Black Friday is not a holiday, although many schools and non-retail businesses stay closed for a mini four-day weekend vacation. In some states, like California, Black Friday has achieved ‘quasi-holiday status,’ since State government offices close in observance of ‘the day after Thanksgiving.’ Some state workers must make up that time off by going to work on another official holiday, like Columbus Day, however.

At first, around 2005, big retail chains began opening at 6 a.m. on Black Fridays. Then, to compete for coveted early shoppers, a few began opening at 5 a.m. or even earlier. More recently, the profit motive prompted more and more companies to open stores at midnight on Thanksgiving Day, except in areas where ‘blue laws’ prevented it.

Thanksgiving night sales start at 5 p.m. at Best Buy, which closes at 1  a.m. Beall’s, Belk and Kohl’s have 6 p.m. Thanksgiving Day openings, with perhaps the earliest at Michael’s. Michael’s Christmas trees and decor will be on sale at 4 p.m. Thanksgiving afternoon until 2 a.m.

Preachers slam the crass commercialism of our secular society from their pulpits and remind their flocks of the real meaning of the Christmas season — the birth of Jesus Christ. The Jewish Festival of Lights, Chanukah, also has its ancient traditions, but many families provide small gifts to their children on each of the eight festival days.

Many Villagers who moved here from cold urban and suburban areas in New York and New Jersey, Michigan and Wisconsin, don’t think Central Florida’s Black Fridays (or Grey Thursdays) are a big deal. It depends on one’s perspective. Some recall sloshing along snowy, icy streets in heavy coats and boots — in elbow-room crowds — where stores had to hire extra security and off-duty police officers to halt theft. They remember pushing and shoving matches , pickpockets and even fist-fights in some urban stores. Canadians learned to cross the border to enjoy lower U.S. prices and Black Friday sales too — so Canadian merchants fought back — luring their citizens back to Canada with ‘Black Friday’ sales as well.

So who benefits, and is Black Friday likely to go away?

With a little effort, savvy consumers can get huge bargains on appliances, electronics and just about everything. Harried retail employees can earn more money, and store owners can profit big time. Statistics don’t lie. Holiday sales work! Black Friday is definitely here to stay.

The National Retail Federation estimated 140 million shoppers Nov. 24-26 in 2006, spending an average of $360 per person. The stores took in $34.4 billion. Four years later, in 2010, 212 million shoppers made purchases during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, totaling an estimated $45 billion.

Last year, not only had the number of Thanksgiving weekend shoppers nearly doubled from 2006, they spent more money , and profits were way up. In 2013, an estimated 249 million shoppers spent an average of $413 each, for industry sales of $61.4 billion. That’s a 78.5 percent increase in inflow since 2006.

Even in Mexico, Thanksgiving weekend is known as ‘El Buen Fin’ — short for ‘el buen fin de semana’ in Spanish — or good weekend for shopping. Through internet sales, which garner increasing billions in Thanksgiving weekend sales, the phenomenon has spread worldwide. So enjoy your turkey and venture out for bargains too.


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