Black Friday – the unofficial holiday immediately following Thanksgiving. The day that shoppers find some of the greatest deals on Christmas gifts for family and friends.
The retail phenomenon that is Black Friday has now grown to include Shop Local Saturday and Cyber Monday – nearly an entire weekend of buy-one-get-one’s and 75-percent-offs.
According to a preliminary Black Friday survey, the National Retail Federation (NRF) found that up to 147 million plan to shop Black Friday weekend. Many retailers make a quarter or more of their annual sales from November through December with Black Friday as the kick-off, NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said.
And this year should be better than last. NRF is forecasting a 4.1 percent increase in holiday sales to $586.1 billion, and the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) predicts a 3.0 percent increase.
Supporting the local economy
From Mercer to Minocqua and beyond, business owners are optimistic about the outcome of Black Friday and the holiday shopping season.
“Last year’s Black Friday was I think our biggest sale day of the year,” Colleen Flanagan, owner of Aunt Esther’s Attic in Mercer, said. “It was dead until about 1:30-ish ... when all of a sudden – boom – we were just bombarded. We had great sales. So I would imagine it’s going to be busy this year.”
Black Friday and the shopping weekend is drumming up excitement across the Northwoods.
“We’re all excited to have some folks in town,” Theresa Smith, Boulder Junction Chamber of Commerce executive director, said. “It’s been quiet the past couple weeks, as you know. I think it will be a good weekend.”
For Lakeland communities, the focus of the shopping extravaganza is on shopping local and supporting neighbors.
“Small businesses are the backbone of the country,” Tom Michaels, co-owner of Golden Karat Jewelers, said. “The more dollars we can keep in the community, the more it will turn hands within all the stores [in the area] – that means restaurants, everything. So it’s important to support small-time business.”
Michaels pointed out that many times shoppers can be just as successful taking advantage of small retail stores’ sales rather than facing the overwhelming crowds at large corporate businesses.
“Small-time business is very competitive with box store business,” he said. “People ... can sometimes get better deals, if not the same deal, at a small store as they can at the big stores.”
And by supporting local businesses, you’re supporting your neighbors.
“Between the stores [in Minocqua and Rhinelander], we have around 10 employees and they’re all local people and basically full-time. There’s one employee that’s part-time,” Michaels said. “And through this whole recession era we have not laid anybody off. Trying to provide incomes for everybody – I think that’s important.”
Northwoods Black Friday, Shop Local Saturday
To promote the unsanctioned shopping holiday, Boulder Junction holds a town festival on Black Friday – the Christmas Walk, a tradition that’s been carried on for 24 years.
“It’s actually a big shopping day for us here,” Smith said. “Our Lioness host a Christmas craft fair at the community center all day. So I would expect that we’re going to have a lot of people coming through town and purchasing gifts. Historically, it’s busy and I see no reason why this year wouldn’t be the same.”
Boulder Junction shops are open late and “they see a lot of people in and out doing their shopping,” Smith explained.
For one Boulder Junction business, this will be its first ever Black Friday since its opening in October. The owner of Boulder Junction Trading Company, Janny Thomas, is looking forward to the day.
“We have the Christmas Walk, so we’re preparing big time,” Thomas said. “We’ve been shopping since August trying to find unique items, and we hope that we have something for everyone.”
The advantage of hosting events or festivals on the infamous retail day is the small-town atmosphere that’s created.
“I think people like coming to places like this because it’s a little bit different than standing in line at some of the bigger stores – a little bit more personal, some unique items are available with artists’ work,” Smith said. “The craft fair is nice, too, because again it’s different stuff than what you get at the box store or online. It’s that handmade goodness that not everybody has.”
To highlight one of the newer additions to the shopping holiday, Shop Local Saturday, Minocqua has a little something planned for the day after Black Friday – Christmas in Minocqua.
“We certainly understand that people take advantage of some of the bigger stores and their sales on Friday, but we’re offering a nice respite from that on Saturday,” Kim Baltus, Minocqua Chamber of Commerce executive director, said.
The day will be a blend of shopping with the Christmas spirit, complete with Santa visiting, roasted chestnuts and the lighting of the town Christmas tree.
“Santa will be arriving at the Gas Light Square. He’ll be visiting with the kids for a couple of hours, and we’re going to have arts and crafts projects for kids to do,” Baltus said. “Santa will then be going to Veterans Park at 5 p.m. to light the town tree, which is that beautiful pine tree right on the corner of Front and Oneida [street]. I think it will be a lot of fun.”
Downtown businesses and the town of Minocqua have been working hard over the past few weeks to prepare for the Christmas season as well as the shopping holiday.
“Our downtown is so quaint, and everyone has already started their decorating. It’s just beautiful,” Baltus said. “The town is doing a great job with the light poles, and it’s a very beautiful setting, particularly when the sun goes down.”
The holiday spirit
Outside of town festivals, retail stores are doing what they can to add that personal touch to their shoppers’ experience.
“We have free coffee and free sweet bread, cookies and snacks so shoppers can keep up their shopping strength,” Flanagan said. “Because we do have so many things here, we say that it’s not only the treasure that you will find at Aunt Esther’s attic, it’s the thrill of the hunt.”
Golden Karat is launching a special deal on Friday to draw in customers: with a $25 purchase, receive a $15 stainless steel living thermal mug.
“You can use it for another gift or keep it for yourself. We’re giving away 2,000 mugs, so we’re hoping we’ll get a lot of people in,” Michaels said. “Jewelry is not in favor now what with the state of the economy. It’s a little uphill struggle, but we’ve substituted other things. You’ve gotta change with the times.”
Though the shopping holiday spirit is building for Black Friday, Shop Local Saturday and Cyber Monday, Northwoods businesses are keeping the Thanksgiving holiday just that – a holiday for employees.
“We want our families to have Thanksgiving at home. We’re not going to go along with all these extended hours,” Michaels said. “We’re going to be open 9 to 5 Friday and Saturday, and I think that gives people plenty of time to shop so they can be with their families and still enjoy the shopping downtown for two whole days.”
After weeks of preparation and planning for both the retailers and consumers, the outlook for the national shopping weekend is favorable.
“I think it’s going to be a good holiday. I’ve seen a little more optimism,” Michaels said. “I think it will be a wonderful Christmas for everyone.”
Sarah Hirsch may be reached at email@example.com