Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Black Friday. Where did it come from?

We know what Black Friday is today. It's a mad dash for savings. A night camped out in front of our favorite store to be the first to get those savings. When those doors open, it can be a stampede of savings crazed madness. What has become of us?

Every year, there are fights and there are serious injuries. Some see this day as a holiday in itself and go out right after their Thanksgiving feast to wait in line for the big opening. Others bring camping equipment and stay days ahead to ensure they are getting the best deals. To each their own I say. 

But, how did this all get started? When did this start? I remember as a kid their being Black Friday Sales too, so it's been around awhile. We asked ourselves this question and started digging. We wanted to know the history of Black Friday and the crazed madness that ensues. Let's see what we cam up with. 

The term "Black Friday" could refer to retail companies going "into the black" on the year. A lot of stores may be "in the red" up until this big holiday sale, where they make up a lot of their profits at this time. But, the truth may be a bit darker than this. 

The first time the term "Black Friday" recorded its use had nothing to do with shopping at all. It was a financial crisis, specifically the crash of the US gold market back in 1869. Two Wall Street financiers worked together to buy up as much gold as they could in hopes to drive the price up and sell it for profit. On Friday, September 24, 1869, they were found out, which sent the stock market into a free fall and bankrupted everyone. 

The most popular theory related to Black Friday tradition is to retailers. Story is, after the whole year of operating at a loss ("in the red"), stores would earn a profit ("in the black") on the day after Thanksgiving, because holiday shoppers spent a great deal of money on discounted merchandise. Retailers did in fact use to record losses in red and profits in black when doing their accounting, this version of Black Friday is the officially sanctioned, but inaccurate one behind the tradition. 

The real story behind Black Friday is not quite as sunny as retailers might have you believe. Back in the 1950's, police in the city of Philadelphia used the term to describe the chaos that ensued on the day after Thanksgiving, when hordes of suburban shoppers and tourists flooded into the city in the advance of the big Army-Navy football game held on that Saturday every year. Not only would the Philadelphia police not be able to take the day off, but they would have to work extra long shifts dealing with the additional crowds and traffic. Shoplifters would also take advantage of the bedlam in stores to make off with merchandise, adding the law enforcement headache. 

By 1961, Black Friday had caught on in the city of brotherly love, to the extent that the city's merchants and boosters tried unsuccessfully to change it to "Big Friday" in order to remove the negative connection. The term didn't spread to the rest of the country until much later, even as recently as 1985 in some parts of the country. Sometime in the late 80's, retailers were finally able to shake the negative meaning with the term, and turn it into something very positive for them and their customers. It was turned into the "red to black" concept which was mentioned earlier, and the notion that the day after Thanksgiving marked the occasion when America's stores finally turned a profit. 

Then people. Now animals.

Their Black Friday story stuck. Soon after, the darker, Philadelphia meaning of the term was all but forgotten. Since, the one day sales craze has turned into a four day event and spawned other "holidays" like Small Business Saturday/Sunday and Cyber Monday. Stores started to open earlier and earlier on that Friday after Thanksgiving, and now the most dedicated shoppers can head out right after their feast. An estimated 135.8 million of us plan to shop over the Thanksgiving weekend. (not me)  

Pretty crazy what it has become. These last couple of years have also started plenty of controversy with some stores opening on Thanksgiving. It's nice to see this year I have heard a couple stores announce they will not be open, allowing their employees to enjoy their time off with their family. I hope that trend sticks. Happy Holidays everyone.