By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
Black Friday. In recent years, it’s come to mean the Friday after Thanksgiving. But the name itself seems pretty negative to me.
With a wife who spent a good deal of her professional career in a family retail business I know full well how important the Christmas season is to merchants and for the smaller business. I’m pretty sure most of them don’t get out of the red and realize a profit until Black Friday. I’ve got my doubts that the mass merchandisers who also sell groceries run in the red all year long, however.
I know that the original Black Friday was a financial crisis during the presidency of U.S. Grant. It occurred on Sept. 24, 1869, after an attempt was made to corner the gold market following the Civil War. But I was pretty sure Black Friday has been used for lots of other historic dates as well. A quick check of Wikipedia.com confirmed that notion with a list of 25 other dates referred to as Black Friday. It also came back with listings for Black days of the week, including every day of the week.
All of the references except for the one observed this week, were negative events — some really negative.
A storm in Scotland in 1881 killed 189 fishermen. A flood in Johnstown, Penn., killed 2,200 in 1889. On a Friday in 1939 the worst wildfires ever in Australia killed 71 and destroyed several towns. The list goes on.
There are three songs, including one by Steely Dan, titled Black Friday. A 1940 Hollywood science-fiction movie starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi also carries the name Black Friday as does a poem written by serial murderer Dennis Rader — the infamous BTK killer from Kansas.
I’ve known a few Black Fridays myself. One was the day a four-year newspaper war involving a dozen newspapers on two sides of a corporate struggle came to an end in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley.
More than 150 newspaper employees from those papers were herded into the old pressroom of the Glenwood Post where warriors from both sides were told by corporate suits from out of town that one side had bought the other out in the valley. Two newspapers died that day and another one succumbed a few months later. Between 30 and 40 folks lost their jobs that day, including myself.
I had been rehired by the end of the day, but the event will forever be remembered by newspaper folks on the Western Slope of Colorado as Black Friday.
Since leaving retail, my wife looks on Black Friday in a much more positive light. Once she even convinced me to go to a big mall on the day after Thanksgiving. Things were pretty good, as we actually managed to find a parking spot in the same county. We went through a side entrance to the mall and it wasn’t crowded. I thought this wasn’t going to be too bad. As we turned the corner into the main corridor a sea of people seemed to be headed right at us.
As we were swallowed by the mob, I found myself consenting to never again complain about my wife’s catalog shopping. I haven’t been back into the maw of Black Friday since.
Still it puzzles me why the end of one holiday of thanks gives way the next day to the season of joy with the negative kickoff name of Black Friday.
I suggest we change the name to Shopping Friday, Wrap-It-Up Day or Retail Revival Friday. A few years of hearing one of these positive names might even get me to try it again.