Thursday, November 27, 2008

Black Friday 1978

BLACK FRIDAY is here again.

Fresh on the minds of those who dozed off from turkey (not tofurky) at the early noon hours of Thursday, they were caching up on sleep, ready to cash in on the dawn-breaking deals, gearing up for camping outside, snaking lines around buildings of the big boxers and malls early Friday morning, awaiting hearty deals and avoiding stampedes of people wanting to bombard the Walmart at 4am for a $79 giant-screen thirdworld LCD TV or quite possibly access to a Wii.

They weren't thinking about this stuff... in 1978. Or were they?

Roll your cart back down the aisle -- if you can fit it down the aisle!

The "Black Friday" retail tradition has more or less been hijacked over recent time, specifically by the material age and isn't the same as the day in history Steely Dan eluded to on Katy Lied, instead, the day is typically heralded as one of the biggest shopping days of the year. In fact, it's not, but it's the one and only day were dedication to standing long hours in frigid outdoor lines and getting sick deals on high-priced goods they may or may not get upon arriving at the gates. Don't worry about its meaning, it's "Black" largely in part of the immense volume of would-be spenders, but conversely the very climate of dead-cold darkness before conventional opening hours -- not necessarily crippling sales for retailers as you may have been lead to believe in the past.

While the term wasn't officially a household term back even ten years ago, the day after Thanksgiving is the prized grand slam, kick-off to shopping for the Christmas season -- even back thirty years ago.

However, in 2008, the retail and financial crisis of this [unofficial] holiday seem to be merging with the current dour spending climate in the U.S. (and comparable to one era of "stagflation" back in the late 70's), as well as the sour retail market amidst some big name closures and cutbacks this year. It's not likely to break tradition; meaning droves of people at the malls, especially with some retailers teetering on extinction, Walmart and Best Buy will predictably continue to lure the most bargain hunters long before, into and after the sun wakes.

The electronic age of the 2000s exploded with the "must-haves"; LCD TVs, MP3 players, all-in-one cellular gadgetry, an impossible-to-find video game console, GPS devices -- more distractions, more things people will fill their closets with and toss out before Black Friday 2009. And you know what to expect: the annual Walmart trample, the midnight tents, foaming mouthed zombies, and lines in below freezing late November temps (while asleep in my warm slumber) and newsstories of caffeine-maniacal early morning shoppers who picked up a radical deal.

Should you go, have fun shoppers and bundle up, maybe consider body armor. If you're not going or waiting it out until afternoon (like me) and you choose to stay home cozy at wee hours of morning, get a load of what consumers were saving their cents on back in good old '78 at our favorite defunct retailer Caldor: toys for the little buckaroos, portable black-and-white TVs, wood-trimmed "stereo" FM radios, power tools, hot $5 LPs (Steely Dan Greatest Hits, anyone?!) and more.

"The Big Holiday"; Caldor advertisements that ran on in the November 23 (above) and November 24, 1978 (below) issue of The Hartford Courant ("Black" Friday 1978).

Monday, November 10, 2008

Lights Out For Circuit City?

I'd first like to apologize to my readers for a long delay in updates around here. I've recently begun experimenting with other ideas here and abroad while being generally busy and unable to travel much while the retail world shows continual slowdown. As you know, The Caldor Rainbow is dedicated to mostly that of on-site reporting and photography in the realms of focuses over the past couple years. Just to let you know, even when updates are slow, I read all your e-mails (even ones the spam blocker throws aside), page comments and appreciate input on all of our pages.

News that piqued my interest as of late was that of what our fellows at Labelscar (and most of the retail sphere are) bringing about -- the impending downfall and drudge of big box electronics retailer, Circuit City -- who seems to be just another but one of the big namers to soon engulf in darkness. Thus far, the 2008 year has been rough for the retailers with a year full of turmoil -- from a troubling economy in part due to rising essential costs that have been squeezing everyone (gas; which has remarkably fallen to two and a quarter as I write this). It's not all the economy though, on the upside, its competitor Best Buy has been doing quite well. Other fellow electronic-centric retailers like CompUSA, which pulled out of many markets, became decimated to just 23 stores and as an online outlet.

Last week, The Consumerist broke the news of Circuit City closing of 155 stores nationwide; with only one store, in Orange, closing in Connecticut. The Constitution State held the fewest hit with closings with one of the ten surviving stores -- evidence now suggests soon may follow in the near future. The company's far-reaching ones on the Westcoast like Arizona and California got whacked while some other (smaller) markets held onto its share.

Just today, Circuit City announced its falling into the quicksand of retailing; Chapter 11 in addition will cut 700 jobs. Few retailers ever find solace from the doom, and even when they do, it never extinguishes the possibility of failure like late retailer Bradlees, who fell shortly after its own recovery.

Critics said this moment was bound to come -- not because its category rival Best Buy has been outselling and marketing the second-tier electronics retailer but because of a much ballyhooed, controversy whereby the company axed 3,400 "overpaid employees" in early 2007. Editorially, this inept move from former company CEO Phillip Shoonover seems to have delivered the company's karmatic blow.

Self-proclaimed consumer warrior and radio personality Clark Howard discussed and addressed the Circuit City issue more eloquently than I could have on his November 4th show (link directs to free MP3/podcast download). Clark would naturally have you stray from "extended store warranties" anyway but now more than ever, we urge our readers caution.

To be frank, I've never really shared a customer bond with Circuit City as with other retail stores in past and present, and have preferred Best Buy (though I have plenty issues with their company policies, employees) but pop in there every now and then and am often surprised at their odds and ends and discounts. When the company made that fate-breaking, despicable move to fire its experienced, loyal employees (and thinking it would be a good idea to do so), my demeanor of their company model has been nothing less than of dour and disdain.

For more on Circuit City, check out the Consumerist's "Death Watch" timeline.

As with all retailers, I hate to see failure even when a company makes a grave error as it did with CEO Shoonover. Furthermore, will you miss Circuit City should they go? Where did they go wrong? Share your thoughts.

Title image: Trumbull, Conn taken by The Caldor Rainbow.