Well, here we are, the Saturday after Thanksgiving and the shopping season is upon us. Of course, some stores have had Christmas decorations up since before Halloween. Remember when the shopping and calendar years had distinct seasons? I do understand the desire of retail stores to push the envelope since for oh so many retail stores, the Christmas sales are the difference between an annual profit and loss for the year. While the term “Black Friday” did not originally have this definition, the idea that the Friday after Thanksgiving is the day where a business passes from the red (loss) into the black (profit) has gained some credence.
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I started working in a men’s clothing store (M. Goldberg, Inc) as a sales clerk/stock clerk/janitor when I was thirteen years old until I was twenty. During most of the year, we opened at 8AM Monday through Saturday, closing at 5:30 M – F and at 6PM on Saturday. After Thanksgiving though, we were open until 8PM, all six nights a week until Christmas Eve when we would close at 5PM. Even as I attended military high school and college, any weekends or holidays I was home and most summers, I would be put to work. We didn’t have or need special sales to get people to come into the store. The big sale was always post-Christmas with the “January Clearance.” We also had a “July Clearance,” conveniently enough after Father’s Day. Most years, the day or two before Father’s Day in June, we would have daily revenues comparable to the days in the week before Christmas.

During the years I worked at the store, my small hometown of about 5500 people (with surrounding county total population of about 15,000 or 16,000 people) could and did support two fine men’s stores (Gordon and Smith was the other men’s store), four or so fine ladies shoppes, two or three jewelry stores, two locally owned hardware stores, two “five and ten cent stores,” a Dollar store, a sporting goods store, a couple of department stores, a couple of furniture stores, and a Sears & Roebuck catalog store. In multiple cases these competitors would be side-by-side, directly across the street from each other or on opposite street corners. Although Cincinnati was 60 miles north and Lexington was 35 miles south, few people would drive to those cities as it was seemingly a l-o-n-g trek to do so. They pretty much shopped locally or not at all. The reality is, most people could park their car somewhere downtown and do a days shopping and not walk as much as they do today when they go to a mall.

I’ve always felt that those days could have served as a Master’s class in micro-economics. Each of these businesses had been in town for decades. Each of them carried good, name brands. The men’s store I worked for started from a bit of a disadvantage as we did not carry boy’s clothing at all (which kind of made it difficult for me when I started working there as I was not quite large enough to fit small men’s sizes so my options in purchasing good clothing were initially limited.) In those days, there was parking on both sides of most streets plus the traffic flowed in both directions and the downtown area was vibrant with cars and people on the street. I do not know how the other businesses operated but we had a section in one back corner of the store where all the lay-aways were kept for the people who wanted to hold something and pay for it as they went along. We also had two thick “credit books” (A – L, M – Z) with each book being 3 to 4 inches thick. I was “trustworthy” so would charge most of my clothing and that’s where most of my earnings went – to pay the clothing bill.

The day after Christmas (and the Monday after Father’s Day) usually had quite a bit of traffic in and out of the store but maybe not so much in the way of sales as those were big exchange days. Wrong size, wrong color, damaged, etc. When we were doing exchanges, we always tried to find the identical item in the correct size as that made it so much easier all the way around. Then we would close the store for a couple of days to get ready for the big sale, with all the mark downs on that season’s men’s fashion (even though most of the styles did not change in men’s clothing that much).

As a kid, we always were looking forward to receiving that year’s Sears & Roebuck Christmas catalog (also known as the “wish book.”) I remember looking through that catalog every year. First time through it was always, “I want that and I want that and I want that…” on and on with all the toys I wanted. Sometimes it might even be a toy that had been “as seen on TV!” A couple of years, I even received some of the things I had wanted from the catalog!

Now of course, it seems that every child’s television show has the marketing tie-ins for just about any product you can imagine. So Toys “R” Us opens on Thanksgiving with special deals already gone hours after the stores open.

I’m thinking progress has been a bit like a regression in some ways.

And because I can:

Cross posted from Just A Small Town Country Boy by Richard Taylor

Photo from Elvert Barnes licensed under Creative Commons