The blending of Thanksgiving and commerce continues to elicit outrage and moral indignation. This year, like in years past, critics of consumerism and those hearkening back to some romanticized version of an America free of consumerism are railing against those who are exercising their freedom of choice to shop early and most likely, often—especially for bargains.
The term “Black Friday” gets trotted out like a fresh “Tom” by the media about a week before Americans sit down to observe one of our high holidays as a nation. While gathering to give thanks for the bounties and blessings from the past year, many of our fellow countrymen are already plotting their shopping itinerary before the meal is finished and the leftovers are put away.
Outrage! Scandal! How dare money-grubbing retailers tarnish such a sacred day as Thanksgiving, the moralizers opine, as if America has ever been anything but a nation full of hustlers and deal makers. Shoot, I might even have been one of those killjoys at one time.
Since blogging regularly requires an immediate response to the subject being tackled, my less than thorough research reveals that Black Friday first originated in reference to retailing about 50 years ago. It had nothing to do with retailers “going into the black” due to sales of merchandise, either, or as close as I can tell utilizing my on-the-fly research methods.
The story goes that the negative twins of darkness and retailing were joined back in 1961 when they first appeared in a marketing newsletter produced by Denny Griswold, about the day following Thanksgiving that year in Philadelphia.
Ms. Griswold initiated and edited one of the first newsletters of its kind, when she launched her Public Relations News in 1944. Here’s her account of that fateful shopping day 50 years past.
In her newsletter of December 18, 1961 (on page 2), Griswold wrote that,
Santa has brought Philadelphia stores a present in the form of “one of the biggest shopping weekends in recent history.” At the same time, it has again been proven that there is a direct relationship between sales and public relations.
For downtown merchants throughout the nation, the biggest shopping days normally are the two following Thanksgiving Day. Resulting traffic jams are an irksome problem to the police and, in
Philadelphia, it became customary for officers to refer to the post-Thanksgiving days as Black Friday and Black Saturday. Hardly a stimulus for good business, the problem was discussed by the merchants with their Deputy City Representative, Abe S. Rosen, one of the country’s most experienced municipal PR executives. He recommended adoption of a positive approach which would convert Black Friday and Black Saturday to Big Friday and Big Saturday. The media cooperated in spreading the news of the beauty of Christmas-decorated downtown Philadelphia, the popularity of a “family-day outing” to the department stores during the Thanksgiving weekend, the increased parking facilities, and the use of additional police officers for guaranteeing a free flow of traffic … Rosen reports that business over the weekend was so good that merchants are giving downtown Philadelphia “a starry-eyed new look.”