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City embraces Black Friday, complete with campouts

on November 27, 2010

By 5 am Friday, David Martinez and Derrick Love, both Oakland residents, had spent nearly 48 hours stationed outside the Best Buy on the city’s Mandela Parkway.  The first night, they slept in a borrowed tent. On Thursday they ate Thanksgiving dinner—turkey on paper plates—under the streetlights as the line circling the building formed behind them.

“It’s totally worth it,” said Love, who had locked his target on one of the store’s ten $349 laptops that usually sell for $600.

“Wednesday was absolutely nothing,” said Martinez, who as it turned out would jump instead on an HD TV, one of the most tempting of the electronics megastore’s door-busters for Black Friday, the annual post-Thanksgiving American shopping marathon. “But once people started to show up on Thursday, we pretty much made friends with everybody behind us.”

David Martinez and Derrick Love waited for nearly 48 hours outside the Best Buy

By 5 am Friday, David Martinez (right) and Derrick Love had waited for nearly 48 hours outside the Best Buy. “It’s not that bad,” said Love. Photo by Ye Tian/ Oakland North.

A very few very early risers, according to Best Buy’s 12-page flyer, could save as much as $880 for a package purchase of a TV and a Blue-ray Player. Many with no chance for those biggest discounts would still throw some money at other deals. “I woke up about an hour ago and thought, well, I wanted to take in the circus,” said Josh Simpson, who by 5:40 am was holding a printer marked $75 off. “That’s what this place is right now.”

Outside the store, Joseph Frantz and his friend Yukichi Kawada were holding up signs at the entrance, one of which said, “You are the first, the last—buy everything.” But neither of them is an employee of the store. The two college students from Oakland, declaring themselves totally self-motivated, were simply there asking people to buy more. “Consumption is the engine of the economy, ” Frantz said. “This is an opportunity for people to be American.”

Their next stop to promote consumerism, they declared, was the plaza in downtown Walnut Creek. When asked why they were not buying anything themselves, Kawada said, “We shop all year long. This is their day. Our day is the other 364.”

However, for Frantz and Kawada, perhaps there was a closer place to go—the Sears a few miles away in downtown Oakland. The two-story department store opened at 4 am, highlighting deals such as $1300 off for a Kenmore stainless steel refrigerator. A store employee said there was a line before the store opened. But by 6:20 am most people had already made their bargain purchases and taken off, leaving the store cold and quiet, as if nothing had just happened. “We’re not like Best Buy,” said the employee, who declined to be named. “We don’t have a parking lot. ”

Compared to the emptiness of Sears, Chinatown, whose business hours usually start around 9 in the morning, was even more like a ghost town during the dawn hours Friday. Despite a few restaurants that served breakfast, most doors in the Asian business district were closed, without any signs of sale or promotion for this particular Friday. “Traditional Chinatown shoppers expect low price all the time,” said Stanley Kiang, a board member of Chinatown Chamber of Commerce. “For most merchants, it’s Black Friday every day.”

"Consuming patriotic," said Yukichi Kawada

“Consuming patriotic,” said Yukichi Kawada (right) Firday as he stood outside the Best Buy in Oakland. The sign his friend Joseph Frantz held said, “Consumerism is freedom.” Photo by Ye Tian/ Oakland North.

For some stores in the Rockridge shopping district, on the other hand, there really is no  Black Friday.  “I don’t want to get into the habit of discounting, because you get stuck in that,” said Jennifer Viale, the owner of Bella Vita, a boutique on College Avenue featuring local designers. Viale said that instead of giving out discounts, she tries to keep her prices fair. However, on this year’s Black Friday, Viale would give out a 15 percent discount only if you dressed in plaid or mentioned “Plaid Friday” to her.

Plaid Friday is a concept created in 2009 by Kerri Johnson and Lena Reynoso, both local business and art gallery owners. The campaign was subsequently sponsored by the Oakland Merchants Leadership Forum (OLMF), a non-profit organization that supports community business districts.  The Plaid Friday idea proposes that as an alternative to the big-box stores’ Black Friday, people should wear plaid the day after Thanksgiving and go to local, independent shops to buy their holiday gifts.

“We wanted something that expressed the idea of the community and the diversity of the local businesses in the Bay Area,”  Johnson said in an earlier interview with a community website. “We kicked around other color names, but the plaid seemed to sum up the idea nicely—independent, interwoven colors working in harmony to create a whole image.”

About 50 Bay Area businesses signed up online to become members of this year’s Plaid Friday.  Half of those are Oakland shops. The day is considered a kick-off to the holiday campaigns of OLMF, which encourages people to shop local by, for example, offering an online gift guide that lists specific gift ideas from independent businesses and artists in Oakland.

“You’ll start to see ads in local media in print and online,” said Erin Kilmer-Neel, co-chair of the board of OLMF. “This really helps to dispel the myth that there’s nowhere to shop in Oakland.”

Bella Vita is one of the businesses that can use more help to get the word out. “I don’t think a lot of people know what Plaid Friday is,” said Viale, who blogged and tweeted about the campaign, but still found it far from enough. She said she didn’t want to be the only little store that put a Plaid Friday balloon outside. “People will think that I am crazy,” she said.

Lead image: New lines formed inside the Oakland Best Buy early Friday as people rushed in for the best deals. Photo by Ye Tian/ Oakland North.

1 Comment

  1. Lydia Chavez on November 28, 2010 at 7:32 am

    Ye, nice piece. Somehow it’s a lot more fun to read about Black Friday then to experience it! Best, Lydia

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