Congratulations, everybody. We had yet another record Black Friday. The number of people busting doors for “Door Buster!” values was up 9 percent from last year. Total spending over the four-day family holiday intended for thanking God for blessings hit $59.1 billion, producing a 13 percent increase over last year and strong evidence that toys heavily advertised to children can still pull a long train even in this economy.
On average, shoppers shelled-out $423 each. Some of them started at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving night, which likely means that a number of Monopoly and Scrabble games went unfinished after the big meal. Sorry kids but, unlike family memories, the savings at Best Buy won’t last.
Black Friday is also about online shopping, which this year topped $1 billion for the first time. And it’s now about guns. Shoppers in record numbers swamped firearms dealers, causing the FBI to field 154,873 calls regarding background checks on our big shopping day.
Sleep well knowing that the number of firearms sold is likely higher than the number of calls to the FBI since multiple firearms can be included in one transaction by a single buyer. Gun dealers, those jolly elves that make sure you get the right bullets, attributed a surge in gun sales to more women buying guns and a fear that the Obama administration could impose stricter gun laws. Handguns were the firearms of choice during Black Friday sales but some retailers reported good numbers in assault rifles and other “long guns.” And now, here’s Burl Ives singing “Frosty the Snowman.”
I get it that Americans thrill to stats and record numbers. We cheer when a popular film makes more than a $100 million dollars over a three-day weekend but, who are we happy for? And when we hear that our shopping contributed to new records for Black Friday, who is it that enjoys our applause? Who wins?
The economy desperately needs for us to loosen our purse strings (since we all have iPhones and purses with strings, right?) and get things moving. So let’s agree that, short of any argument over the healing good inherent or lacking in expressing love through the purchase of gifts, there’s some general level of good in moving things around out there by shopping. We live in a time when making health care available to all strikes many as “socialism,” so let’s not start wrestling here over a consumer-based economy until we’ve cleared our calendars and brewed a big pot of coffee.
That said… spending power is in fact power. Power to do more and to be more articulate in the expressions you make by way of what you buy. Some situations are just inevitable. To deny a child an upgrade in their video gaming system when you’ve been silent for years on the whole concept of sitting on the sofa and killing digital soldiers with machine guns is going to be difficult. I will confess to a perennial discomfort with the ‘role’ play suggested by toy stoves and toy washing machines for little girls. Why not a toy desk with a framed photo of Meg Whitman or Carly Fiorina, and a calculator for figuring layoffs and the transfer of jobs overseas? On second thought, let her have the stove.
But there can be other scenarios, brightly illuminated by the lights and hope of the season and providing you with a sense of having used your spending power for more than just shoring-up the recession. Long time readers will know I hit these tips every season like a choir boy shouting out the first four notes of “Joy to the World,” but every year I think they’re worth mentioning.
Buy art and craft items that will support the artists that make them and perhaps substitute a plastic mass product gift with something that has the heat and fingerprints of a creative spirit all over it. Talk to the artist and carry forward to the gift recipient whatever little gems of detail about the piece(s) you glean. By way of that, who knows? Maybe a niece or nephew auditing that conversation will be moved to try making something of their own design.
Do not fear giving gifts in the form of donations to charities and the groups down in trenches doing work that needs doing. If you think Doctors Without Borders and OXFAM don’t need all the dough they can get you haven’t been watching the news. Don’t be afraid to say to someone, “I bought a person who really needed it a goat through Heifer International.” They’ll be flattered that you see them as someone who would ‘totally get’ that. And take the extra moment to check out the efficacy of non-profit groups at sites like Charity Navigator.
Finally, please spend some time with our own merchants here in Santa Monica. Not because they’re all wonderful people, although most of them are. But because each day that we do something to sustain any level of uniqueness and individuality in retail is another day we stall the “big box-ing,” if you will, of all retail. Be aware of The Main Street Holiday Parties this weekend, and walk or ride your bike to join your neighbors in a celebration honoring the day none of us are found crushing each other at a Wal Mart. Oh, and don’t give guns for Christmas. Thank you.
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