Green: The decline of Black Friday

By Molly Green

The world spun off its axis last Friday as America turned its back on its most valued and… The world spun off its axis last Friday as America turned its back on its most valued and time-honored tradition: commercialism.

Everything I thought I knew about Black Friday — years and years of studying the art — was wrong.

Did I witness any fighting? No.

Disgruntled employees? No — in fact, they were amazingly smiley, like Rainbow Brite characters come to life.

Massive crowds? Well there were technically more people than last year, but they shopped less (on average, each shopper spent about $30 dollars less), according to The New York Times. So they were there, but they were lame people.

And not only were crowds uncharacteristically restrained, but U.S. stocks actually dropped after Black Friday sales, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Even the mighty Wal-Mart declined 0.6 percent, according to the article.

First Oprah announces the end of her show, and now this? Is there anything in the world I know to be true? Is the grass even green?

I have some serious questions about the direction this country is going when not even the slashed-price sales of one of our nation’s most cherished pastimes and its ideals of cutthroat, winner-takes-all aggressiveness can prompt Americans to spend their money loosely and carelessly, as they have in the past.

But even less American was the respectful and orderly behavior of the shoppers.

Last year, we had the Great Black Friday Wal-Mart Massacre, during which an employee of the store was physically trampled to death.

As a result, stores took extra precautions for Black Friday ’09. Wal-Mart, which was specifically court-ordered to administer such precautions, kept its stores open 24 hours to prevent a rush at its doors and implemented new crowd-control measures, according to an article by the Associated Press. The other big stores, such as Target and BestBuy, followed suit.

Thus, the only element I had to battle Friday morning was the icy drizzle of nearly frozen rain and the knowledge that I had been outwitted by the family behind me in line, who wisely camped out in a hunting tent, complete with a portable space heater.

But I didn’t sit shivering in the rain and 30-degree temperatures for three hours to buy a $3 grilled cheese maker (though it was a great bonus — I am making so many sandwiches).

No. I come to Black Friday to witness the madness and the beauty of American consumerism at work. And I know it sounds horrible, but there is something awing about a true Black Friday — a crystallized image of America, a nation so consumed by chain stores, discounts and credit cards that everyday Americans are momentarily transmogrified into neighbor-trampling monstrous beings.

Which made me wonder if this can all be blamed on the current recession. We all know the age-old seasonal tales of Scrooges who’ve lost the holiday spirit. What if America is losing the commercial spirit!?

Half of my own shopping party dropped out of our plans, despite the fact that we had been scheming them up for several weeks, carefully plotting everything from the order of stores, outfits and locations — though it must be said, my family selected the Robinson shopping center strictly for its new Market District.

“If DisneyWorld and Wegmans had a baby, this would be it … and it would be a first-born son,” my brother wrote in one such strategizing e-mail.

And yet, when it came time to man up, drink caffeine and head out, at least four relations of mine complained about being tired.

Tired!? There is no time for rest on Black Friday. At least not the Black Friday I know and love.

Moreover, online sales were up 11 percent from last year, while spending in stores rose only 0.5 percent from last year, according to PCWorld.com.

While it’s great and very convenient that store websites like Amazon.com, BestBuy, Target and Wal-Mart now offer Black Friday sales, this takes the magic away from Black Friday itself.

In fact, I consider it awfully lazy. The fact that some many people capitalized on the Internet sales leads me to believe that most people are in it for the sales, not for the Black Friday culture.

While I can hardly condemn others for shopping in the comfort of their own homes, I am scared. I am scared for the future of all Black Fridays, because if they continue to resemble the Black Friday I attended last week, I think it’s fair to say that the true Black Friday — the one I knew and loved — is dead.

E-mail Molly at [email protected]