Black Friday

Gretchen Allen, Staff Writer


The words “Black Friday” used in any context sound ominous, and for good reason. Dating back to the early 1960s, the term was originally coined by the Philadelphia Police Department’s traffic squad. This was because the chaos caused by the extra vehicular and pedestrian traffic created by shoppers heading to downtown stores the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving. Traffic squad officers had to work extra shifts. The extra shoppers made it easier for shoplifters to swipe things and run, which added extra stress to the officers on duty. Back in the 1960s, most employers did not offer the day after Thanksgiving as a paid day off. However, this didn’t stop employees from playing hooky to get in on the sales extravaganza at most retail shops though. Not that fighting over a Chatty Cathy doll sounds nearly as exciting as getting the latest iPhone or Google Pixel 2, but it is easy to imagine droves of shoppers pushing their way through packed aisles to get their hands on the last Easy-Bake Oven or Lite-Brite.

The term “Black Friday” is also attributed to a time when stores go from “in the red,” meaning they are operating at a loss, to being “in the black,” or showing a profit. Although the term “Black Friday” was widely used in Philadelphia in the 1960s, it did not catch on nationwide until the late 1980s. At this time, retailers announced big sales and created a buzz about limited quantities. Ads were run in the Thanksgiving Day newspapers and shoppers made their lists of most-wanted items. Retailers began opening earlier the day after Thanksgiving, and supply and demand took on a whole new meaning. Highly anticipated items were often sold to customers only if they had lined up early to receive a number prior to entering the store. For items that did not require a number, it was common to see pushing and shoving, or hear shouting and verbal attacks from one customer to another. Some newspapers would even share reports of paramedics taking injured customers away in ambulances.  

Over the years, retailers vying for the upper hand have opened their stores earlier and remained open later. It’s only been within the last ten years that Thanksgiving night became a draw for shoppers. Nothing is sacred at this point–it’s all about the mighty dollar. Of course, you have groups that boycott stores that open on Thanksgiving, but ultimately, what the public demands, they will get. With technology where it’s at today, shopping is not just about going to the store, it’s about getting the best deals online. In fact, there is a website called that leaks ads from all your favorite stores and then allows you to compare products and prices. You can create a list to keep track of your most wished for items, see what’s trending, and even save the items you want so you can be alerted to sales of that product.

Black Friday has come a long way over the years and it’s here to stay. The items in demand will continue to change, but the rush of getting that one anticipated item to wrap under the tree will be the driving force in the continued tradition of many Black Fridays to come. Even our beloved Saint Martin’s Bookstore has gotten in on the act–30 percent off and free shipping was pretty tempting.

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