Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Black Friday: A Homegrown Cincinnati Holiday

Dexter Determines His Shopping Strategy
      I grew up in a retail family and recall my Mom having to work the day after Thanksgiving at Lazarus Department Store.  (At that time it was never referred to as Black Friday.)  It wasn’t until years later that I came to realize the history behind the biggest shopping day of the year.

Fred Lazarus Jr.
      Fred Lazarus Jr. was the son of one of the brothers that started F. & R. Lazarus in Columbus, OH.  Working in the family business, he grew the retailer substantially and right before the stock market crash of 1929 they joined with Bloomingdale's of New York,
Abraham & Straus of Brooklyn, and Filene's of Boston to form Federated Department Stores.  Based in Cincinnati, the retail giant continued to grow with "Mr. Fred" as the chairman.  Later, more department stores nationwide joined Federated, which now is known as Macy’s.

      Concerned over business during the Great Depression, he began to look at the calendar and realized that Thanksgiving landed on the last day of the month two times in six years prior to 1939.  The day after Thanksgiving was traditionally the kick off to the holiday shopping season and because it shortened the time span, sales were greatly impacted.  That was when he turned to his friend President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and asked that Thanksgiving be moved from the last Thursday of the month (the date set up during the Civil War when the holiday began) to the fourth Thursday in November.  

      Changing the retail calendar for generations to come, the day eventually became known as Black Friday.  There are several stories surrounding how the name came about, but the one most widely accepted came out of Philadelphia during the mid 60’s.  The traffic police, cab drivers, and bus drivers felt that the day was so bleak for them trying to cope with the massive traffic jams that they coined it Black Friday.  

      Perhaps a more fitting explanation would be what the day has evolved into.  Did Mr. Lazarus mean for the change of dates to become almost more important than Thanksgiving itself?  Or, that it would turn into such mayhem that a person would actually be trampled to death from a crowd rushing for bargains at Walmart?  Looking at the newspaper ads after Thanksgiving dinner has always been a tradition in our family.  But now, the ads start weeks before and stores are open on Thanksgiving Day or at midnight.  Is it a sign of evolution or just plain greed?

      Our favorite shopping experience on Black Friday is the “Black Friday White Russian” party at HighStreet.  It celebrates the holiday in the most giving way.  Fred would be proud of this hometown retailer.  Don’t miss it!  It’s Friday, November 25 from 7 to 10pm.  See you there.

We wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving!

No comments: