The Department Store Model: Holiday Shopping in the Early to Mid-20th Century
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Black Friday wasn’t a great day for the police departments in mid-20th-century Philadelphia. By the 1960s, locals had taken to calling the chaotic day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday.”
In 1950s Philadelphia, Thanksgiving weekend was a mob scene. The Army and Navy college football teams celebrated their fierce rivalry each year with a neutral-ground clash in Philly on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The day before, thousands of people from surrounding communities – as well as Army or Navy devotees from farther afield – flooded the city in anticipation of the big game. They took the opportunity to stock up on clothes, home goods, and other giftable items at central Philly’s many retail shops and department stores.
Black Friday is the conventional starting day for the holiday shopping season.
Historically, it’s also been the best day to find great deals on the year’s hottest toys, games, and electronics.
The wholesome story of Black Friday is that happy shoppers would flood local shops and malls the day after Thanksgiving, and the extra spending would put retailers "in the black" for the year.
The Friday after Thanksgiving was named "Black Friday" and it became the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season.
Retailers weren’t that happy with the name "Black Friday" at first: it was associated with the Great Depression of the 1930s, signaled by Black Thursday, so they tried to reinvent the image of the Black Friday frenzy.
The ‘black’, it was argued, referred to the ledgers used by retailers. For the majority of the year, shops would be ‘in the red’ (losing money) but Black Friday indicated the moment when most retailers would start making a profit, or going ‘in the black’.
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