We’ve all heard the laments: The Christmas shopping season starts too early … It’s not even Thanksgiving yet … The Christmas season has become too commercial … and on and on.
To be sure, the marketing push for Christmas shopping, especially on TV, seems to hit earlier than it ever has. The so-called “Black Friday,” the unofficially official start of the Christmas shopping season, would appear to be a relatively new invention of retail marketers eager to get people to begin their shopping — and spending — as soon as possible.
But the truth is that the day after Thanksgiving in America has long been the kickoff of Christmas shopping in earnest — and local retailers in Olean advertised plenty in the days before Thanksgiving to get folks thinking of the gifts they needed to buy.
Sixty years ago, in 1958, the first image of Santa Claus appeared in a Times Herald newspaper advertisement just after mid-November.
The Wednesday edition the day before Thanksgiving was always one of the thickest papers of the year for the Times Herald, packed with Christmas shopping ads, and the Nov. 26, 1958, edition was no exception.
There were expansive ads for the likes of Hannifan & Co., Reed’s Jewelers, Bradner’s (several pages), Gavin-McCarthy, Lester Shoe Store, Fox & Stevens (a jeweler), Olean Couch Co., Sam’s Appliance Store, D&B (“Your Goodyear Store”), Carnahan’s (two pages), Kneiser’s, Woodward Corset Shop, Housey’s, Begg’s Jewelers (grand opening), Olean Discount Center, Segall’s, The Liberty Co., Adams’ Sporting Goods, N.L. Kaplan, Palmquists Jewelers, G.E. Hopkins Sporting Goods, L.G. Howden & Son, Western Auto Associate Store, Bender & Riggs (furniture and appliances), Lang’s Hardware and Furniture, Matson’s (furniture and appliances), Montgomery Ward’s, Hoelscher’s Inc., Davis Clothing Co., Weston’s, B.F. Goodrich, Ted Henzel’s Men’s Shop, Danielson’s Leather Goods, S. Blumenthal Co., The Kinter Co., Cinderella Shop, W.T. Grant Co., Chiavetta Bros. Co., Gould’s Men’s Wear, United Surplus, Greene’s Toy Shop, F.R. Brothers & Co., Kresge’s, Richards Clothes, Parish Hardware & Furniture, Penney’s and Olean Household Inc.
The message? Get out there during the long weekend and shop. Perhaps doors did not open at 5 a.m. Friday along North Union and West State streets, but the day after Thanksgiving and ensuing weekend was “game time” for local retailers — with Friday culminating in the Santa Claus Lane Parade.
Meanwhile, Black Friday has been associated with shopping the day after Thanksgiving for perhaps longer than folks might realize.
Back in the 1950s, according to history.com, police in the city of Philadelphia used the term to describe the chaos that ensued on the day after Thanksgiving, when hordes of suburban shoppers and tourists flooded into the city in advance of the big Army-Navy football game held on that Saturday every year. Not only would Philly cops not be able to take the day off, but they would have to work extra-long shifts dealing with the additional crowds and traffic.
By 1961, “Black Friday” had caught on in Philadelphia, to the extent that the city’s merchants and boosters tried unsuccessfully to change it to “Big Friday” in order to remove the negative connotations.
History.com notes the term didn’t spread to the rest of the country until much later, however, and as recently as 1985 it wasn’t in common use nationwide. Sometime in the late 1980s, however, retailers found a way to reinvent Black Friday and turn it into something that reflected positively, rather than negatively, on them and their customers.
Since then, the one-day sales bonanza has morphed into a four-day event, and spawned other “retail holidays,” such as Small Business Saturday — highlighted here today locally.