• Prose and Purpose

    After 25 years on the job, a former provost examines the world on campus and in higher ed.



As an economist, I always pay attention to Black Friday or day after Thanksgiving sales.

December 7, 2014

As an economist, I always pay attention to Black Friday or day after Thanksgiving sales. I look to see whether the sales give any indication regarding the overall health of the economy. This year’s sales seem to have been down modestly but I think this will be more than made up by the growing overall importance of cyber sales.

One year, decades ago and before I was married, I showed up at a Macy’s sale that started at 7 AM on Black Friday (a relatively civilized starting time by today’s standards) and bought my bride to be a new winter jacket at an absolutely bargain price. She even liked it which makes the bargain price all the more impressive. Now we have evolved. Not only is there Black Friday but there is also Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. In addition, Black Friday made its first appearance in London this year, minus the Thanksgiving celebration but with the bad behavior that sometimes tarnishes our sales events. Here large stores opening on Thanksgiving has expanded to be a prominent part of the year’s economic picture.

This has produced a call from various politicians to ban stores from opening until midnight on Thanksgiving Day. As a further step, a number of these politicians have announced plans to introduce legislation that would codify and enforce this ban. When I was growing up, my dad owned a meat market. He would be open for at least the morning of Thanksgiving so that his customers would have a place to keep their turkeys until it was time to stuff and cook them. Small grocery stores were also frequently open as were the neighborhood bakeries so that pumpkin pie (never my favorite) and chocolate cake (a much better choice) were also available.

The candy/newspaper stores were always open on Thanksgiving when I was growing up. To visit relatives and friends, the subways were running as were the buses. Taxis were also available for those with more discretionary funds. In summary, many businesses were always open on Thanksgiving and hardly anyone ever objected. The move to major department stores and malls being open is clearly an escalation. It also means that more and more employees have no choice but to work during part of Thanksgiving. But, even before this latest development, cyber purchasing has been a growing sector of the economy and clearly these are 24/7 opportunities.

I understand the unhappiness of those who have to work during what was previously for them a holiday. Reducing valuable family time certainly isn’t a plus from my vantage point. I also, however, understand the desire on the part of many shoppers to start shopping as early as possible and to take advantage of the best sales possible; for them shopping on Thanksgiving is a facilitator. There are many reasons why legislation makes good sense. Health and safety are two reasons that come immediately to mind. But legislating for no other reason than we don’t like what is taking place is overly micromanaging. We don’t need more laws that attempt to manage every facet of our lives. I’m highly unlikely to ever go to a mall on Thanksgiving but I would never want to stop a mall from opening nor ever try to stop anyone from shopping that day.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

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