If you watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade through to the end, you saw Santa arrive with Mrs. Claus, elves, and much fanfare. It's the official mark of the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, and this year's theme for Macy's, Believe, was seen everywhere. In the largest Macy's store in the Bay Area of California, large LED screens had running slideshows on an endless loop and before it looped through the images a second time, Believe sparkled to life on the screen.
On Black Friday, I was on assignment at a very busy mall. I confess that I rarely go to a mall, and I haven't been to that particular mall in two years. And if there's one thing I was acutely aware of this year it was this: Black Friday is now a four-day event. It begins on Thanksgiving, and ends on Sunday at midnight. Whether online or in the brick and mortar stores, sales, special values, reduced priced items, and new deals every 10 minutes or new bargains each hour, began around 6 PM Thursday night, hours before the clock chimed in the new day at midnight. Perhpas it really should be Black Friday week, after all.
Back at the busy mall, on the actual namesake day, I was struck by the relaxed nature of folks seeking a parking space - no honking horns, no gestures, no yelling. The several-thousand-plus lot was full, and it took 9 minutes to find a space to park at 11:00 AM.
Once inside the mall, it was hard to find signs of the holiday. The interior window displays were less than spectacular this year. Four years ago, they knocked it out of the park with their elaborate designs and spectacular color; whimsical fantasy was abundant. What I observed this year was a very understated kind of decorating in the windows and inside Nordstrom and Macy's. In the center of the mall, there was no Santa: he was pushed to a side area - less than half the size of four years ago, with only 3 or 4 people in line. It felt a little sad.
I spoke to a number of people who actually had to work on Thanksgiving. We've read again and again about the 'mega-greedy companies' that 'are ruining Thanksgiving' by 'forcing unwilling employees' to work on the apparently all-holy Thanksgiving Day. The actual folks who worked on Thanksgiving didn't share those sentiments, interestingly enough. They were happy to tell me their story as they were shopping, eating, and waiting in lines on Black Friday. Below, a few of the quotes from those people and a few photos of more interesting, if not darker, displays that are leading us into the retail Christmas holiday season. (You'll have to look for my journal piece for the 'full Monty'; it's appearing in syndicated Sunday newspapers today.)
Faceless mannequins in size 0 and smaller were everywhere. I know the mannequin sizes because a store manager told me. It's a sad truth that many clothing manufacturers make garments that best fit tiny women; and naturally, they look better on eency mannequins.
Lower level of the mall, drinking coffee with multiple shopping bags, Louise, who is age 63, told me: Yes, I worked a long shift yesterday: 5 AM - 3 PM. And I was happy to do it. My kids and grandkids are coming for Christmas, and I have Christmas Day off. Yesterday I made overtime wages, and since I didn't have a Thanksgiving feast to make, it was a good way to spend the day. I work as a home health caregiver, and my clients were so happy to have me there making a small Thanksgiving meal for them.
Inside the Leggo store, George, age 56, was shopping for his grandson. He told me this: I worked a regular shift for the gas and electric company yesterday. I was happy because I made time-and-a-half, which helps me to buy presents today. The family has other people who worked on Thanksgiving, too. So we're doing our turkey and Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday so we can hoot about the games, too. It's no big deal, and if your employer compensates you for your time on a federal holiday, who cares?
Jana, who is 43, was waiting for the elevator inside Norstrom. Here is her Thanksgiving story: Yes, I worked yesterday. I'm on the custodial staff for the hospital. We all took our regular shifts yesterday, because we are divorced women with grown children. I had invitations to a neighbor's and to my sister's, but I am glad for the money I made on yesterday's shift. I even offered two hours of overtime!
Richard is a 36-year-old realtor who worked on Thanksgiving. He said: I don't know why, but this year I suddenly have a half dozen clients from out of state who are in a big hurry to buy a home in California. To them, Thanksgiving isn't nearly as important as finding a home. I talked it over with my wife, and she was fine with me showing properties on Thanksgiving Day, so long as I was home by 6 PM. It worked out well; 2 of my clients are making offers on properties I showed them. The other 4 ruled out properties I showed them, so we've narrowed the field. Not all properties for sale were available for showings on Thanksgiving, but smart sellers were. It's only one day of the year, you know.
Bria, age 39, told me her Thanksgiving story: Of course I worked. I'm an ER doctor, so yes, I worked. It was a 12-hour shift. I have today off, then back at it on Saturday and Sunday. It's a needed service, you know: doctors, nurses, hospitals, xray and lab techs, pharmacists, fire departments, police departments - lord, you'd think Walmart was the only place on earth that had employees on Thanksgiving. But that's ridiculous hysteria. A LOT of people work on the federal holiday, and why not? There are needs, and unique schedules, and by the way: not everyone living in our country celebrates Thanksgiving with a huge load of food and a dozen people in one home!
These white jeweled bras at bebe were spectacular. While Victoria's Secret forbids photography of their displays (and the store had maybe 4 shoppers in it), bebe was happy to have me photograph and share! And the store was filled with shoppers. Ta-dah!
Della is 44 and she was in line at Macy's in the houseware's department. Here's what she told me, at first blushing and shy: Oh, yes, I worked yesterday. My shift began at 5 PM. I, um...I work at Walmart! I know, everybody seems so mad about Walmart opening on Thanksgiving, but why? I wish I made more money everyday, but my goal is to work right now, and any job for a person who isn't trained or educated for another position feels lucky to work. I didn't have Thanksgiving at my house, but my mother did. We always eat early, around 2 PM, so I missed nothing. It wasn't a problem. Maybe the people who don't like it really just don't understand what it is to need and want to work?
Frank, age 67, was eating with his family, and was very friendly. He said: No, I wasn't scheduled to work yesterday because the shop was closed. And I'm sorry about that. My friends, a lot of them, made time-and-a-half and even made double-time. I didn't work, and if I don't work, there's no pay. So it was a financial loss for me. My boss started closing the shop for Thanksgiving a few years ago. We never open to the public for business on Thanksgiving, but a small crew of the most senior employees used to come in for 4-6 hours to catch up on the work. So I'm sorry I didn't get to work. But I did buy a TV at Walmart when they opened, and the deal saved me $300. I just wish I'd made that amount by working a few hours yesterday.
Ruthie, age 27, was with her boyfriend, Trey. They were looking at the mall map to plan their next stop. Ruthie told me: No, I didn't work, but my mom did. She works at Target, and she didn't have to be at work until 7 PM. We all pitched in to help with dinner, and we did clean up so she wouldn't be tired at work. I heard a lot of people complaining about stores that were open on Thanksgiving, but I don't see why families can't work around it. Like my mom said, "The other option is to be unemployed." Plus, the people my mom works with are fun and they are all pretty close friends, so it was like a second gathering on Thanksgiving Day!
Final note: The early returns showed that in spite of mass media's negative attention to the Thanksgiving shopping phenomena, more shoppers did shopping then than on Black Friday. So the Black Friday sales were down; Thanksgiving sales up; and Cyber Monday's results remain to be seen.
Don't forget to send me your plans for Cyber Monday!
Look for a posting here on Monday, bright and early with the results.
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