Local merchants: Black Friday slid by sort of gray
on December 1, 2008
by MELANIE MASON and HENRY JONES
Dec. 1–While retail sales the day after Thanksgiving exceeded expectations, most independent retailers here in North Oakland were removed from the spending frenzy of Black Friday.
It wasn’t because of the economic troubles, necessarily—they typically miss out on the action. “Everyone gets drawn away to the big stores,” said Carlo Busby, president of the Temescal Merchants Association and owner of Sagrada boutique, of Black Friday. “As an independent business, we can’t do the deep discounting that [they] do.”
Deep discounts are often the draw for many shoppers on Black Friday; national chains and big-box stores heavily promote their after-Thanksgiving sales that mark the start of the holiday shopping season. Black Friday, so termed because the high volume of sales that day often helps retailers turn a profit for the year, is now a bona fide phenomenon, as masses of shoppers rouse themselves from their allegedy-tryptophan-induced food comas to hit the stores before sunrise in search of the best deals.
In this troubled economic climate, analysts and pundits were looking to the shopping day as an indicator of the health of the nation’s economy: would the shoppers come, and if so, would they spend?
Nationwide, retailers did post small gains in sales compared to last year’s post-Thanksgiving weekend. According to the research firm ShopperTrak RCT Corp., sales on Black Friday and the following Saturday increased 1.9 percent over the same dates for 2007. The National Retail Federation, a retail trade group, estimated that a total of $40.1 billion was spent over the weekend.
But the shopping season has just begun, and already experts are anticipating a drop in consumer spending over the next month. If the big box stores are the hare, then the local shops are the tortoise: they hope slow and steady can win the race, or at least get them through the year.
While consumers can be fickle, it’s the loyalty and taste of Rockridge and Temescal residents (particularly the affluent ones) that may be the lifeblood for local retailers.
“We have a dedicated patron base,” said Trevor Calvert, a bookseller at College Avenue’s Diesel, who expects sales during this holiday season to be similar to last year’s. “There are a lot of people who specifically come to use for our selection.”
At Rockridge Furniture Co. on College, a sign out front advertised a “Deck the Halls” sale. But workers said the holiday season is not typically a booming one for their business; the store usually sees a rush in October before the holidays and January once the festivities are over. Still, a slow shopping season doesn’t preclude holiday spirit.
“We decorate the windows to bring people in, in hopes that they will remember us,” said Jon, who works at the store.
Busby said his store, which specializes in religious gifts, books and art, tends to do brisker business as the holidays approach. He hopes the boutique’s seasonal offerings, such as fair trade Christmas tree ornaments, will draw in customers. Still, he said, has noticed a change in spending patterns during these hard economic times.
“People are being cautious,” Busby said. “There are as many people coming in as before, but they’re looking for a meaningful purchase.”
But not all retail around Oakland was sleepy on Black Friday. The Sears store downtown opened its doors at 5 am to a waiting horde of deal-seeking shoppers. Store officials haven’t yet crunched the sales numbers, but it was apparently “a very good turnout compared to last year,” said operations manager Ed Uhey. “A bit of everything was flying out the door.”
A quick survey of patrons at Rockridge’s Market Hall this morning revealed a decidedly hands-off approach to the holiday shopping season. One woman, sneaking in a quick cup of coffee before a job interview, laughed at the prospect of holiday shopping. Unless a new job materialized, she said she would eschew gift buying for “anything [she] could do for fun for free.” Nearby, a young couple said that they rarely do much holiday shopping, but were budgeting even less this year, choosing instead to save for their upcoming wedding.
Reading a newspaper inside the food hall, dog-walker Robert Danison grimaced at the thought of the recent Black Friday rush. “The thought of that makes me tired,” he said. He was likewise cautious about the remaining holiday shopping season, saying that he plans to “keep it low-profile.” North Oakland retailers can only hope that he doesn’t.
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