Shoppers looking for an alternative to the post-Thanksgiving melee of Black Friday will find one in Oakland. A strong “shop local” push has developed in the city over the past few years, and this year’s day-after-T-Day campaign is the biggest yet.
Some say Black Friday–the kickoff to the holiday shopping season and the biggest shopping day of the year–is so named because it’s the day retailers begin to turn a profit, or “enter the black.” Others say it’s a name the Philadelphia Police Department, tired of dealing with holiday crowds and traffic, made up to discourage shopping on that day. Either way, it’s infamous for inducing bargain-crazed mobs, some of which have caused stampede deaths. It got so bad that at one point in the 1990’s, a group started Buy Nothing Day in protest. But four years ago, Oakland gallery owner Kerri Johnson decided that rather than avoiding Black Friday altogether, shoppers could use the opportunity to support their local stores. She created Plaid Friday, a small, independent business approach to holiday sales.
Any small business is welcome to participate in Plaid Friday. Retailers aren’t required to offer any particular promotions, though many do offer festive specials, like discounts for shoppers wearing plaid. By working together to advertise the event, retailers hope to increase their business and develop a strong local economy.
This year there will be a special focus on downtown Oakland. To encourage shopping, the City of Oakland is offering free parking on Friday, November 23, as well as on Saturdays throughout the holiday season; Youth Radio helped produced a video advertisement; Oaklandish, an Oakland pride apparel brand and retailer has taken a key organizing role and the Sustainable Business Alliance project Oakland Grown has promoted the effort.
Independent businesses along the “Free B” Broadway Shuttle route, from Jack London Square to Uptown, will be offering special promotions all day. Shoppers can pick up a map of participating retailers on the shuttle, at any participating store, or tear out the insert in this week’s East Bay Express. With every visit to a featured retailer, shoppers get their “passport” stamped, and the stamps are redeemable for specials at nearby cafes and bars. Five stamps gets you half off a sandwich a Farley’s coffee shop on Grand Avenue for example, and 10 stamps gets you a “buy one get one free” deal on beer and wine at bar Make Westing.
There will also be DJs, live music performances, food and indie makers on the sidewalk between 14th and 15th Streets along Frank Ogawa Plaza from 11 am to 6 pm. An outdoor fashion show will be held in Latham Square, next to the Cathedral Building. The show and street fair were organized by Oakland In The Black, a local shopping campaign launched last year in the wake of Occupy Oakland by a group of downtown retailers.
The idea, says Steve Snider, director of the Lake Merritt Uptown and Downtown Oakland Community Benefit Districts, is to show people that downtown is now a shopping destination. “There hasn’t been that much of a critical mass of retail until this year,” he said. “It’s really exciting.”
Not only are there a number of new retailers, he says, but shoppers can visit bars and cafes along the way. Clothing boutiques OwlNWood and Harper Greer recently opened in Uptown, as did shoe stores SoleSpace and Shoe Groupie. In the last year Bittersweet Café and Awaken Café also moved into the neighborhood. “You can be in Oakland all day and have fun,” says Natalie Nadimi, community engagement manager for Oaklandish, which opened an apparel store on Broadway in downtown last summer.
While there are several groups involved in putting on the day-long shopping event, it is primarily being advertised as part of Plaid Friday, which Johnson started in 2009. She was preparing to turn Blankspace Gallery, which she co-owned before opening Marion and Rose’s Workshop in Old Oakland, into a shop for the holidays and she wanted to open it earlier than the First Friday art walk in December. But she was reluctant to participate in the big box store free-for-all of Black Friday. Aware of the tide of anti-Black Friday sentiment, she decided to appropriate the event, rather than boycott it. “I wanted to turn it around and do something really positive and relaxed,” she said. “Instead of not shopping at all, why don’t we shop local?”
Johnson talked to other business owners and found support for her idea. “Local businesses are diverse,” she said. “The idea was to get everyone and weave them all together into one strong body. That’s where the name comes from.”
Over 30 businesses participated in the inaugural event, Johnson said, from bike shops, and hardware stores to galleries and boutiques. “We did a really grassroots, quick campaign,” she said. She created a website and a Plaid Friday logo, which she made available to any business that wanted to participate.
This year Johnson estimates that 40 Oakland businesses will take part. Plaid Friday is also now a national phenomenon with over 30 communities participating across the country. Johnson provides guidelines on the Plaid Friday website for cities that want to join, but she doesn’t want to place any rules on participation. “I wanted it to go viral,” Johnson said. “I want every business to feel like they can participate in it. I really want them to have fun.”