Retailers Dreaming of a Black Christmas

For years economists have pushed the idea that “Black Friday” is the first day of the year in which retailers operating all year “in the red” and at a loss, use the Christmas buying season to turn a profit putting them “in the black.”

Supposedly on the day after Thanksgiving, shoppers are so full of turkey and dressing, and so weary of nonstop football, they can’t wait to blow some dough on heavily discounted merchandise.

The History Channel, however, says this is a myth.

According to the cable TV channel, Black Friday got its name in the 1950s from the Philadelphia police who used the term “Black Friday” to refer to post-Thanksgiving chaos when thousands of suburban shoppers flooded into the city to shop, causing the police to work extra-long shifts to deal with crowds and traffic. This not-so-holly-jolly story also included battling shoplifters who took advantage of the bedlam.

So much for good tidings.

That Black Friday is the single largest retail sales day of the year, however, rings true.

According to the American Marketing Association based on statistics from Adobe Analytics, U.S. retailers earned a record $7.9 billion on Black Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, an increase of nearly 18 percent from 2016.

“Cyber Monday” 2017 added another $6.6 billion in internet sales, making it the largest online shopping day in history. Those sales figures also pushed Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s net worth past $100 billion on the day after Thanksgiving, 2017.

This bump in Black Friday spending does not, as many people believe, bode poorly for brick and mortar retail shopping.

Retail research firm ShopperTrak says store traffic declined less than 1 percent on Black Friday 2017, a significantly lesser decline than projected. In 2018, the National Retail Federation projects holiday retail sales in November and December — excluding automobiles, gasoline and restaurants — will increase between 4.3 and 4.8 percent over 2017 for a total of $720.89 billion.

Here Comes Santa Claus

Janet Brown, manager for Belk at Bridge Street, confirms that Black Friday is the biggest retail sales day of year, but that truth comes with a little enticement.

“We open at 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day and are open until 1 a.m.,” Brown said. “Then we open again at 6 a.m. on Black Friday. The first 200 people in line Thursday receive a gift card in denominations of anywhere from $5 to one prize of $500 at every Belk store. On Friday, the first 100 customers in line receive gift cards. Belk as a company is giving away $1,000,000 in gift cards to customers who stand in line.”

Belk will hold Santafest in the children’s department Nov. 10 featuring arts and crafts as well as, of course, pictures with Santa.

The retailer will also have a toy store that officials hope will fill the gap left by the departure of Toys ‘R Us; and they welcome choral groups to sing while people shop. The store will offer refreshments and goodies throughout the holidays and during the official tree lighting event on the Bridge Street promenade.

“We are not doing these things to compete with online sales and to bring people into the store,” says Brown. “Belk has always held these special activities to add a festive atmosphere to our stores during the Christmas season.”

All I Want for Christmas

Tiffani Spengler, manager of Alabama Outdoor in Jones Valley, said they notice a big uptick starting on Black Friday, but they see it as the kickoff for the rest of the busy season ahead.

“We sell a lot of gift items, but we have a whole lot of visitors who want to see what we have available, measure their options, and get ideas,” she said. “They may or may not buy on Black Friday, but we see a steady stream of people who return to make purchases all the way up to Christmas.

“Everyone gets the same experience whether you know what you are looking for like a Patagonia sweater or rock-climbing gear; or whether you are looking for a gift for someone who loves hiking and camping, but you aren’t sure what to get them,” said Spengler. “We can show you how to pack a backpack, explain the difference between buying a sleeping bag and a sleeping pad, help you dress in layers, so you stay warm for a three-day camping trip; or help you prepare for a vacation to Iceland.”

Apparel is their most popular holiday items because Alabama Outdoors promotes functionality and fashion. Jackets, pullovers, fleece and down layered clothing that protects against the elements, hats, scarves, neck warmers, blankets, and socks are all gift favorites.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

“Shoppers are on a mission, especially when looking for gifts for Christmas,” said Dr. Ana Byrne, owner of The Little Green Store on Monte Sano Mountain and the new holiday shop in downtown Huntsville. “They are on a mission to find something interesting, looking for one-of-a-kind, handmade pieces, local artwork, and finely crafted décor. The new store downtown is a challenge because most or our merchandise is individual artistic pieces.”

Chris Gregory of Roosevelt & Co Gentleman’s Supply with Ana Byrne of The Little Green Store. (Photo by Steve Babin)

Will they be doing anything different for Black Friday?

“Our goal is always to make people feel happy, welcome, and comfortable while they are here, and we always work hard at that,” Byrne said. “If it is cold, I have hot chocolate for them to drink; if it is hot, I have cold water for them to drink. We wrap everything you buy as a gift and deliver if you need help getting it home.

“We hold art shows, open houses, and participate in Under the Christmas Tree, activities that keep people seeing what’s new and gives them a chance to meet the artists,” she said. “We carry a lot of holiday items like handmade tree ornaments, ceramics, and Raku Nativities. Our customers are loyal and we have fun with them. We know their taste enough to say, ‘We have something new you are going to love – take a look at this’.”

Santa Baby

Fatemeh Nazarieh and Donny Maleknia of Donny’s Diamond Gallery admits the Christmas holidays are the busiest time of the year for jewelers, but they offer several advantages for people looking for a more relaxing shopping experience on Black Friday.

“Located along the Parkway, no matter how busy we are, there are no problems finding a parking place, no parking garages, we have easy access with no traffic coming in and out, and we have hot drinks, cookies, and candy for you to enjoy while you shop. It is all part of creating a festive atmosphere for shopping,” said Nazarieh.

“The trends in jewelry among younger customers are custom designs, especially in engagement rings. They want something that is theirs alone and of course custom designs is Donny’s specialty.”

Their holiday kickoff came earlier than Black Friday this year with a gem show in late October featuring David Artinian, the Gem Hunter.

“Colored gems and stones are growing in popularity. We specialize in diamonds, but this is the second year David Artinian has done a show with us. People buy the stones and it takes four to six weeks to design a jewelry piece that showcases the stone, just in time for Christmas,” Nazarieh said. “We also have plenty of preset diamonds and gems in our showcases too, so we have something for everyone and in all price ranges.”

O Tannenbaum

Opening at 9 a.m. on Black Friday Pat and Roger Schwerman’s Christmas Tree Plantation in Lacey’s Spring provides the perfect family holiday experience.

Roger grew up on a large farm in Kansas. He and his wife Pat bought the fully operational Christmas Tree farm in 2002, shortly after 9/11. Being in the Pentagon on that day, Roger wanted to get away for some peace and quiet, so he came back and “bought the farm,” so to speak.

“We don’t sell trees, we sell tradition,” said Schwerman.

“I had people stop by and plead with me, sometimes almost threaten me – ‘I’ve been coming to this Christmas tree plantation for 30 years for my Christmas trees and I want that to continue. You cannot get rid of the trees!’” he said with a laugh.

He and Pat had no intention to do so. Their 70-acre Christmas tree plantation has Virginia pine, white pine, leland cypress and deodar cedars and is only open on weekends from Black Friday through Dec. 24.

There are also horses, cows, baby goats, and chickens for the kids to pet and feed. There are antique tractors to enjoy, a country gift shop, a Santa Claus on site, and a train for the little kids to ride.

Pat Schwerman said families carry out an old tradition of cutting their own Christmas trees.

“When you arrive, we provide you with a saw and a measuring stick. You can pick out any tree on the farm you want. We have ‘elves’ to help you if you need any,” she said. “If you cut a live tree on the day after Thanksgiving and put it in a bucket of water when you get home, it will still be fresh after Christmas.

“A previously cut tree is dead and drying out when you buy it. That is why families get together and enjoy the experience of choosing their own tree.”