Friday, November 20, 2009

Thinking About Black Friday

This is holiday season.  It is upon us.  Retailers are at the ready.  Waiting.With.Baited.Breath.

I was talking to my cousin this morning about Black Friday.  I asked him was he going to go brave the retail sport of trying to find a bargain.  He recounted to me a time, a few years ago, when he thought he was early when he went to Best Buy at 7am.  He was thinking he could get a jump on the shopping and surely no one was up on the Friday after Turkey Day to be out shopping.

Wrong on all accounts.

 He said he had to walk all the way around the store just to get out, it was wall-to-wall people and the thing that dragged his happy-that-I-ate-well sleepy self out-of-bed-for was already sold out.

The last few years I have donned my sweat shirt, grabbed my coffee mug, and headed out to the throng. Part of it is to find a deal, part of it is the sport, part of it is the excitement, and more of it is my M.B.A. in marketing doing my annual consumer observation.  One year my husband and I tag teamed each other through Toys R Us searching for just the right items for our then 1 year old daughter, 3 year old daughter, and 10 year old son.  Then we hit the line and had great conversations with people we never would have talked to.  There were mini strategy sessions about which stores had the best deals and the fastest moving lines.  Philosophical discussions ensued about the virtues of Wal*Mart versus Target.  Debatges about support local businesses and why all the fuss to get more stuff?

That was years ago before the recession/depression has pulled the country from our retail stupor and shopping addiction.  Job losses greater than 27 years ago, more so if you are black and brown, homelessness among the middle class on the rise, more kids going to bed hungry, is this really the season to get into the combat sport over the latest toy?  There isn't even a latest, must have toy although I do imagine some of my Mocha Mom friends will make sure they have the new Disney Princess, Tiana doll wrapped and under the tree, I certainly will.

What is it about the holidays and this time in particular that makes people give up a month of coffee or manicures or whatever to engage in this day?  Perhaps it is the excitement of being around people since most of the country lives in manufactured neighborhoods.  Or perhaps with the joblessness it is the need to be among fast moving people again, or maybe it is the hopes that the shrinking budget will stretch long enough for there to be something under the tree.

This year my husband and I decided we would purchase the Sunday paper and review the ads, decide which stores have the thing we are looking for, and set out early.  My son, now fifteen, and I talked about getting up at 5am to go out again, just he and I, ending our shopping morning around 11 o'clock over pancakes and mochas.

It is the joy of taking time out of our lives to just casually sit and listen to each other, perhaps that is part of the event, families that travel to be "home for the holidays" meet with cousins to carve out as much fun as possible. 

I am excited about going out this year.  Not so much for the shopping but because I am going with a purpose. We already started our discussions with the kids that there won't be an overflowing tree this year, I especially have said this every time I have stepped on one of my daughter's toys or picked up yet another doll or piece of doll clothing.  Their rooms are stuffed, my youngest daughter has a birthday coming up and I expect there to be more things stuffed in there.

But this year we are doing something different.  As much as my children have, there are others who do not.  I told them we are adopting a little girl this year and will give her presents she wouldn't otherwise have.  We are tying it into my daughter's early December birthday celebrations.  The kids had a meeting and decided that what they really want is a flat screen TV, a computer, and a Wii.  I told them they will not get all of that but we all agreed that it would be great to get one family gift for everyone to enjoy.  And we will be getting ready for the grandchildren that are due in January.  Something different to our celebrations.

I imagine this year will include stops to my favorite independent retailers, those small businesses that truly are the backbone of our economy.  My coffee run and pancake run will be with independents.  I always buy books for presents so I will make a stop at my favorite bookstore.  There are some unique presents to be had if I simply walk down Argonne, Jefferson, and Kirkwood Road.  The few dollars that I spend will be spent at home.

It is the longing in us that brings us out of our homes during that time from when the calendar page turns to November.  We long for meaning and connection and an experience.  The retailers are hoping that our longing will translate in dollars exchanged and packages carried out, they are already boasting about their sales, this is their time to hopefully break even.

I think ultimately it will be a time when we realize that what we really want are more than the gifts long forgotten in the closet but the connections that build a treasure in our heart.  And that is what the season is really about.

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