America did its patriotic duty to stimulate the national economy at the malls this past Thanksgiving weekend. Black Friday sales, you may have heard, were up 3 percent from last year, topping out at $10.6 billion. Shoppers spent $372 over the Black Friday weekend. Nevermind that nasty little business of the Wal-mart employee getting trampled to death by a frenzied crowd in Long Island. (His epitaph is really gonna suck.)
Anyway, rumor was that J.C.Penney would be opening at 4 AM on Friday. Who goes shopping at J.C.Penney at 4 AM? My cousin Wendy and a bunch of other insane people, that's who. She bought something like six blouses, all the same style in every available color, and matching necklaces. “All of that for $150!” she said. “And Christmas earrings. With candycanes.”
She went home and slept. Then, at noon, she and I went back to the Brea Mall. We dodged kids in strollers being pushed by irate mothers. “Are you going to stop whining now?” said one mother. “Yes!” screamed her kid.
“That's awesome,” said Wendy. “I've already heard a 'You said you wanted to come, but now you want to go home. Next time, just stay home.'”
Kids hate the mall. But salespeople must hate it even more. Or, their proportion of hate must depend on where their store of employment falls within the fanciness hierarchy of mall shops. Which goes, in descending order: Saks, then Neiman Marcus, then Bloomingdales, then Nordstrom, then Macy's, then J.C. Penney, then Sears. At the bottom of the hierarchy are the most put-upon sales associates who have the worst time of it during Black Friday. The mens' jeans section at Penney looked like it had been hit by a suicide bomb, with boot cuts and dark washes thrown willy nilly across tables and hanging off shelves. None of the sales clerks wanted to take on the Sisyphean task of folding the jeans, replacing the jeans, then having to do the whole thing over a mere five minutes later after some asshole customer unfurled the jeans anew.
Malls drive me nuts, but something about the frenzy of shopping, the sheer number of people committed to buying something–anything–on Black Friday totally makes me want to shop, too. It's an ancient, competitive feeling that originates deep in the reptile brain, this urge to acquire especially when other people are busy acquiring. I bought two $17 shirts I didn't even try on. Then I went home and shopped some more online. And Wendy, who ordinarily detests shopping malls, spent the better part of an hour browsing the accessories at Claire's. In the parking lot, we passed entire families loaded down with shopping bags. There wasn't the exuberant consumerist joy of past years' Black Fridays, but rather a grim sort of determination to buy, buy, buy.
There is more shopping to be done, I hear. Sales were robust, but are expected to lag in the coming weeks. I guess we'll have to see.