Editorial: Holiday shopping

In a more economically naive time, making reference to the Friday after Thanksgiving as Black Friday was something of an insider's comment.

Most definitely, it had become a major shopping day long before the promise of door busters (another term once considered the jargon of retail insiders) drew crowds of shoppers out into the dark hours on a Friday morning to wait in line the way teenagers once waited in line for concert tickets.

These days it would be easy to conclude that the black in Black Friday refers to the time of day when shoppers start lining up, or the dim prospect of finding a parking spot, but the origin of the name is much more upbeat: it was considered the day by which retail businesses had better be showing black ink on the books. A simple storekeeper's budget could, and still can, be broken down to the number of weeks or months it would take in a year to earn enough to pay that year's taxes, then utilities, then rent, then salaries and so on. By the end of business on Black Friday, hopefully, enter the black ink of profitability.

As is an American tradition, we have turned this business event into something a good deal more than what it once was; there are even some folks who characterize heading out to shop on the day after Thanksgiving as much a part of the holiday tradition as turkey.

So be it.

In the grand style of the excess of the Thanksgiving feast, one day doesn't seem to be able to capture the joys of holiday shopping. Added to Black Friday in recent years have been the likes of Cyber Monday (the day people do online holiday bargain hunting once they've returned to work) and now Small Business Saturday, the day after the day after Thanksgiving.

Promoted as a way to encourage shoppers to seek out locally-owned retailers in downtown shopping areas on the day after they hit the malls and big box stores in pursuit of lottery-like scores of low-priced TVs, Small Business Saturday was hyped to some success this past weekend in Bel Air and Havre de Grace. Indeed, the streets in both towns were packed with shoppers.

It could well have been the hype and promotion of a shopping day with nearly as much shopping excitement as Black Friday that spurred the crowds to open their purses on a second big spending day. Then again, it may be another in the few small signs that have shown up in recent weeks indicating the bad times have bottomed out and an upswing may be in the offing.

Hard to say which it is, but a recovery would certainly be a nice Christmas present.

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