(Note: It has been awhile and this topic is a bit dated, but I have a variety of things I'd like to address over the coming weeks and if I wait any longer on this topic, it will become fully irrelevant.)
Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that is traditionally spent with family, feasting on the bountiful turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie that the host has spent the past two days preparing. Family travels from near and far to watch football, discuss the recent election, and generally spend time together. It's one of those things we used to do every Sunday, but the bond of the American family has grown weaker as the almighty dollar has become the center of everyone's attention.
Thanksgiving, however, has been going through a weakening of its own. In years past, the number of people participating in "Black Friday doorbuster sales," the limited quantity, often below-cost items that are sold at a deep discount in an early morning rush, has risen dramatically. The search for the best deal has become, at best, an unhealthy obsession. On the darker side of this corporate holiday is an anti-small business slant and a breakdown of family tradition in exchange for saving a few bucks on Christmas gifts.
A decade ago, the hardcore fanatics lined up at three in the morning for a three hour wait to ensure they received the object of their cost-conscious desires. This year, customers began lining up outside the sliding doors of my employer four full days before the doors opened at five in the morning. That's not a misprint. Customers literally set up tents, portable heaters and grills, coolers, card tables, and radios on the Sunday prior to "Black Friday." These (seemingly) unemployed bargain hunters had so little to do with themselves during the holiday week that they cleared out their schedules to sit in a tent in sometimes frigid weather for one hundred straight hours.
You may know one or more of these folks. They were most likely conspicuous in their absence at your family's Thanksgiving dinner. Perhaps a joke or two was made at their expense, but they were committed to "getting the deal," so they were given a pass for selling out their family for a three hundred dollar laptop. It is in one's instinct to forgive their own family for such trivial things.
But is it really that trivial?
As mentioned, families spent much more time together in the 1950's. There was love, loyalty, and respect for family in those days. Is it any wonder that, as families have spent less and less time together, that these bonds are no longer as strong? If family time must be relegated to holidays, so be it. However, when hyperconsumerist propaganda from mega retailers threatens to destroy even the holiday gatherings, something must be done to save the family. Greed and hyperconsumerism are learned behaviors that will be hard to overcome in one generation, but simply ending one of the major contributing factors can have a profound effect on those who get sucked in.
In simpler terms, you don't need a laptop computer for three hundred dollars. First, it's mediocre product at best. Second, the hourly wage at McDonald's during the four days you spent in line would more than cover the difference needed to simply walk in during a normal day of operation and purchase a much higher quality machine. Third, your family misses you, so go home! No sale is more important than family.
Of course, the aforementioned anti-small business sentiment is another logical extension of this plea to end doorbuster sales. The classic doorbuster deal consists of a set number (say twenty) products that the corporate retailer bought as cheap overstock (for, say, four hundred dollars apiece). In turn, the big box store labels it a huge steal at three hundred dollars, and indeed it is, since it is selling below the store's own cost.
When you arrive at the front of the line after your several days of camping out, you purchase the three hundred dollar item in a mad rush and, during the past several days, you made a list of several other items you can pick up as gifts while you're there. You also get the long-winded "all the things you need to make your doorbuster work" speech that implores you to spend five hundred dollars accessorizing your three hundred dollar product. This ends one of two ways: the store loses profit on the sale but still gains revenue, which looks good to the guys on Wall Street that are buying and selling the company's stock, or you end up spending several hundred, if not thousand, more dollars and the store turns a nice profit despite the doorbuster that brought you in.
Meanwhile, down the street, Uncle Bob's Computer Shop has no doorbusters and no customers. The customers all went to the big retailer to get the super deals. As quick as the money went in the register at the big box store, it also went from that register to the company's corporate headquarters. The money was then divided three ways. One half went to the corporate executives, already millionaires, for being "so smart and so well-prepared." Another half went to Chinese manufacturers for their cheaply-made products. Finally, a small token of appreciation was returned to the local employees who made it happen: minimum wage or, perhaps, a buck beyond it. All that money the deal-seekers spent just disappeared from their local economy.
Uncle Bob is still down the street, and he's getting worried. He's three months behind on his mortgage because he can't afford to lose two thousand dollars by selling junk product below cost. He's not a millionaire CEO. He's your neighbor who drives an old, beat-up car because it's all he needs to get from point A to point B. Soon, that beat up car may be his home because his local community cared more about saving a few bucks in the short term than keeping ALL of their money in the local economy for the long haul. The deal-seekers spent money, the rich CEO's got money, and Uncle Bob has no money. Uncle Bob's shutting down the store, packing up his last few belongings in the car, and telling his kids that they have to stay with Grandma and Grandpa for awhile. Daddy, he tells them, needs to go apply for a low-paying job at the big box retailer that put him out of business during the Season of Giving.
What it all boils down to is that you gain nothing, but lose very much, by taking your money to a mega retailer. You may feel that you are saving a few bucks, but it's only an illusion. Keeping four hundred in your community is better for your future than sending three hundred to a millionaire executive. It might make this week harder, but it will make the future much brighter to have that money in your town, where you earned it and where it can continue to benefit you. This is especially true on "Black Friday," which adds in the element of missing family time in an effort to save just a few more dollars.
When you live in a town such as mine, you understand the endgame. The local shops closed up when the corporate retailers wooed the residents with their lower prices. The average income dropped like a rock as the former business owners were now minimum wage laborers for the big stores. Suddenly, the shoppers couldn't even afford the discount prices anymore. That's when the big names started leaving town. Dillards, Steve and Barry's, Circuit City, Fazoli's, TGIFridays, Bennigans, and more have all shut down in the last year alone, and you could stand in one place and be within yelling distance of every single one of these closed shops with the exception of the half-mile trip to Circuit City. The mall is beginning to look like a ghost town. Repossessed homes are everywhere. I should know, I'm buying one.
The patrons of the mall are quickly becoming the more unsavory variety. Theft at my particular store is higher than most of the stores in the chain and we are not in an urban area. We are in a small, working class town that is quickly becoming reminiscent of Roger and Me, the Flint, Michigan documentary detailing the descent into chaos that occurred when the automakers left town.
We're ahead of the curve on economic woes. Ours started years ago and we're in the middle stages of the meltdown. From here, it seems as if most of the country is just scratching the surface of what's to come. Here's to hoping, for the sake of my neighbors, that small towns like ours lead the way during the local business revival that brings this country back to the success and happiness of half a century ago. We'll be among the first to fully experience the lowest of lows, so why not be among the first to stand up and rebuild the way a small American town should rebuild: with the love, loyalty, and respect for family and local business that could have prevented this breakdown in the first place?
And when we get there, we can look ahead to a bountiful feast for Thanksgiving, and give thanks that the whole family is together again, not worried about standing in line for a cheap laptop that nobody would really enjoy anyway.