On Black Friday, the treasures were found off the beaten path
The holiday season officially began last week. Of course, on Monday the scrooges in the mainstream media did what they could to dampen the holiday spirit by announcing that our country is officially in a recession. This news came on the heels of what turned out to be a pretty good start to the holiday shopping season.
Sales on Black Friday were up more than 7 percent from last year. That ever-elusive consumer confidence that is seemingly so vital to our economic well-being seemed to be restored for at least a day. Trouble is, it came just over a month too soon. Oh well, another story.
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the recession actually started last December. Economic activity peaked during that month and has essentially been declining since that time. Payroll employment peaked that month and has declined since then, with the economy shedding some 1.2 million jobs.
As a side note, the NBER determined the expansion that began in late 2001 lasted 73 months. The previous expansion in the 1990s lasted 10 years, or 120 months.
That just got me to thinking that for the past 15-20 years all we have known is expansion. That certainly explains a few things about our society. This adjustment is probably more than a little overdue.
In the Fort Collins area, the economic doldrums don’t appear to be as pronounced as in other areas of the country or even the state. Other than a reduction in new building, there seems to be no discernible change in lifestyle, at least to my eyes. The few merchants I spoke to said holiday shopping seemed to be about the same level as last year.
It has become my personal tradition to observe human activity on this most hallowed of days for our consumer-driven economy. I have heard the horror stories of Black Friday but, to be honest, I have not observed the type of behavior that makes the headlines. I do tend to stay away from the stores that make the biggest pronouncements. People are too predictable. They always migrate to the brightest lights.
I have also been a victim of a couple of bait and switch tactics with those “can’t miss” sales. So, while the crowds file off to the “awe” aisle, I look for more sensible deals. To save time, I look for the electronic check-out stations. In general, they are still intimidating to many people.
I also try to observe how stores staff their checkouts. On a real busy day, there is a constant rotation of checkers and you often can get lucky when a new register opens up. The key is to keep your eyes on the manager. It’s kind of like watching the quarterback from the eyes of the middle linebacker.
My overarching rule for that day is that I always treat the checkers with courtesy and respect. You wouldn’t believe how much that little gesture will improve your day as well as the day of that poor person who got up at 3 a.m. and has been hearing the same complaints for an entire day.
This year, I went out of my way to find those locations that don’t get the mad rush of shoppers. I wanted to see how they were doing. It appears that Black Friday is a good day to go grocery shopping. Those stores are swamped on Wednesday night as people prepare for the “day of eating.” On Friday, they are as empty as they were swamped just two days prior.
Grocery stores don’t have huge bargains to offer, but there is virtually no waiting to check out. I also found that it is a perfect day to rent a carpet cleaner. Apparently nobody (myself excluded) thinks that Black Friday is the day to think about cleaning a carpet.
Auto parts stores are a good place to shop and it is a good day to get your car serviced. If you car needs to be washed, there is no waiting in line. Fast food chains are swamped on this day, but it is a great day to go to that out-of-the-way diner or bistro. And, they are thrilled to have you as a customer. Extra portions and extra-courteous service can be yours, if you are willing to step off the beaten path.
The more I weighed the outcome of this past weekend, the more I realized that the best treasurers were found where nobody was looking. In addition to the aforementioned shopping and eating excursions, I found a great shoe sale at a store that didn’t have a big name. The store wanted to play the “holiday sale game” and I was happy to oblige. I didn’t have to wrestle over the last pair of Skechers and I had plenty of room to walk and make sure my new dogs were comfortable.
Goodwill isn’t averse to taking advantage of Black Friday and, if you aren’t averse to second-hand items, you can make a killing. I needed some hardware to repair my daughter’s Christmas tree. I avoided to big-name store and found a hardware store that had no lines and a store owner that was happy to see me. Great stocking stuffers found their way home with me and I found a great new hardware store that comes with a new friend.
As a holiday suggestion, I would encourage taking the trail less traveled. You won’t find a 40-inch plasma television for $29.95, but you might find your faith restored in people. I don’t know about consumer confidence, but I did discover a confidence in others that had been waning.
And that was a better bargain than any store could offer.
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