Black Friday ain't what it used to be

Shoppers on Black Friday in 2005 at the Wal-Mart on South Delaware Avenue in Philadelphia.

With Thanksgiving dishes cleared away and most people still sound asleep, Danyl Patterson would rise in the pre-dawn darkness and head out in search of Black Friday deals.

She, along with her friends and parents, would bring their own chairs and make a pit stop at Dunkin' Donuts for pastries and coffee. One year, her group was the first through the door at Walmart where they grabbed up video games that they ended up not even purchasing.

For them, it was shopping as sport. But Patterson, an attorney, doesn't do that so much any more. Black Friday has become her day to sleep late and go out to people watch.

"Mostly, I just want to see what all the hoopla is," Patterson, of West Philly, told me yesterday. "I want to see the crowds. But they are thinner and thinner."

With big-box stores such as Dick's Sporting Goods and Kmart opening on Thanksgiving Day and others showering us with pre-Black Friday deals, Black Friday ain't what it used to be.

It's not dead. Far from it. But it is dying out. Some experts jokingly refer to Black Friday as Gray Friday now because of sales declines in the recent years, according to Ray Taylor, a Villanova University marketing professor.

Blame retailers.

Because they're so thirsty for consumers, they're strangling Black Friday. They do too much, too soon. Walmart is one of the worst offenders. The world's largest retailer has had its Christmas layaway program available since late August. August!

Kmart isn't much better. The retailer ran its first Christmas ad of the year on Sept. 8. (That's just wrong.) And instead of waiting until Black Friday, Amazon debuted its Black Friday deals yesterday.

"They pushed Black Friday up too early," Patterson complained yesterday. "I remember when I was way younger and we'd all sit around and look at the circulars."

It was a Thanksgiving ritual. She and her shopping buddies would strategize about the best stores to hit and when. That time is over.

"Why do I have to do all of that when I can just sit in front of my computer?" Patterson asked.

A lot of us feel the same way. I know I won't be going anywhere near a mall on Black Friday. I had planned to meet up with a friend at King of Prussia Mall, then we both remembered what day it was and nixed that idea.

"We saw last year that Black Friday lines have become shorter and registers more readily available as holiday sales started earlier and lasted longer," pointed out Ross Steinman, associate professor of psychology at Widener University.

"The best sales are no longer limited to one day, so this eliminates the need for people to wake up at 4 a.m. to get in line for a deal," he added. "The fact that people can also find many of these deals online also signals the beginning of the end of Black Friday as we know it."

This year, shoppers also might be more skittish about flocking to New York City or crowded malls because of last week's series of coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people. ISIS, which claimed responsibility for the carnage, has threatened to strike New York City and Washington, D.C.

"You see these things in the media and it amps up your anxiety a little bit," pointed out Dionne A. Watts Williams, a communications specialist and special events manager for Fairmount Water Works. "I'm hoping not to stay [at the mall] too long."

According to the American Express Spending and Saving Tracker, nearly 45 percent of us plan to make purchases on Black Friday but even more - 47 percent - will be shopping on Cyber Monday, the first workday following the Thanksgiving holiday.

For some folks, though, Black Friday will always be a thing. For Marissa Montenegro and her mother Rosemary, of South Philly, that's their special "girl time" and has been for decades.

"When people hear we are going to Macy's on Black Friday, they say 'Oh, no!'" said Marissa, a spokeswoman for Magee Rehabilitation Hospital. "For us, Black Friday winds up being more about us getting excited about the holiday."

She added, "It's not about the deals at all."

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