The strange phenomenon of Black Friday

By Mountain Taylor
Reader Contributor

It’s almost time for that magical night spent waiting outside a megastore in the cold, just hours after Thanksgiving, primed for those doors to open, revealing one-day-only super-bargains. Deals on the hottest new electronics make even a chilly wait in a crowded early morning line feel warm and fuzzy. Although there is the risk of bodily harm, the thrill of tackling a complete stranger over a DVD-boxset or pepper spraying your neighbor all add to the experience of the contemporary kick-off to the holiday shopping season’s theatrics.

Ah, nothing like the holidays to usher in good will toward men... and pummel your neighbor for a flat screen. Photo by Ray Tang.

Ah, nothing like the holidays to usher in good will toward men… and pummel your neighbor for a flat screen. Photo by Ray Tang.

Though the name and events of Black Friday seem to suggest it is a sort of dark and ancient harvest festival, involving human sacrifice or maybe lots of worshippers fighting for cheap squash, its roots are rather recent. Other than the name given to various stock market crashes in the 1800s, there’s the theory that retailers started to profit as the holiday shoppers emptied their wallets after Thanksgiving, but there’s no proof. This is probably just a tale told by retailers to associate something favorable with the dark connotations of ‘Black Friday.” In more modern times, the name was used by the Philadelphia police and bus drivers to describe the frustrating grid-lock of traffic on the Friday and Saturday following Thanksgiving in the 1960s. Then Philly and New York newspapers picked up the term, coining the first day of holiday shopping ‘Black Friday’.

Of the people I surveyed in and around Sandpoint’s downtown shopping district, none were (or would admit to being) excited for the unofficial holiday, Black Friday. In fact, most were planning on simply working as usual, avoiding the holiday craziness at all cost, or binge watching their latest Netflix obsession. However, business owners and shop keepers I talked to are expecting and preparing for a busy day. Some businesses will be providing refreshments for hard-pressed shoppers, while most stores are going to be fully staffed, hoping to be swamped with customers and guests.

Other locals fortunate enough to get a four-day Thanksgiving weekend told me they plan to spend it with their families or shop local businesses—maybe both. But unsurprisingly, no one who talked to me expressed any warm feelings about the potentially violent, capitalistic marathon of shopping that the Thanksgiving weekend has become synonymous with. Although I didn’t bring it up, many people I talked to support corporations closing on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. It reminds people of the reason for the season and encourages them to shop the local, open businesses that rely on our patronage all year round. Grocery stores in Sandpoint will be open on Thanksgiving with limited morning hours, so you can get those final ingredients you forgot (or burned). For example, Super 1 will be open as late as 3 p.m. A few corporation stores in our area will be closed all day Thursday, including Staples and The Home Depot. A little further away, stores catering to your home and everything inside, such as TJ Maxx, Nordstrom, Costco, Gamestop and Pier 1 Imports will be closed Thanksgiving, reducing the temptation to drive south on a turkey-fueled impulse shopping splurge.

All these stores will be open again on Friday, except REI, a recreational equipment dealer and largest consumer co-op in the country. Business officials have chosen to close doors Thursday and Friday, urging shoppers to connect with friends and family with their #OptOutside campaign. REI will pay its 12,000 staff members to not work Nov. 27, and employees, members and fans of the outdoors will be sharing their outside experiences on social media through the holiday season with the #OptOutside tag.

With many business attempting to tone down the rampant capitalism and ridiculous store hours that have become commonplace since the 2000s, what is it that keeps this ongoing craze … a craze? Could it be that 12 percent of the people shopping for Black Friday are drunk? Or is it being convinced you’re saving hundreds of dollars, when in reality, corporations create cheaply made products designed just for this “holiday” and manipulate the original price, making you awe at the savings you’re not actually saving. On the other hand, it could be making up for the camping trip you never went on this summer—nothing beats sharing the concrete with that urban homeless man who just happens to be a coupon-clipping enthusiast. A poll last year showed only 55 percent of expected people turned out for Black Friday, leaving the fate of this holiday in question for the years to come.

So, where do you fall? Do you support this accident-prone, overdrawn-bank-account, trampling-your-peers-for-a-great-deal -holiday? Or do you skip out of it completely and spend it in Sandpoint with your family and local businesses?

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