Monday, November 19, 2012

Christmas Shopping

Well it's that time again...Black Friday...only worse. At least the stores used to wait until midnight of Thanksgiving Day to admit the hoards of lunatics who lined up at their doors waiting to get trampled to death. Now they are opening at 8 pm on Thanksgiving night. God forbid their customers and employees have a full day to be with their families and celebrate being together. This is a spectacle that really sickens me. Instead of encouraging people to give thanks for what they have, they are urged to go out and get more. As far as I know, this execrable tradition is uniquely American. Maybe we have too much and need to stop and consider why we feel so compelled to spend money we don't have on stuff we don't need.

Shopping has come a long way since the 1950s. Malls didn't exist. There were "downtown" areas in every town that featured one or two department stores like Kresge's or Sears...Macy's if it was an upscale town.  These stores would decorate their windows to lure shoppers inside. In New York, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's in Herald Square and Abraham and Strauss in Brooklyn were famous for their holiday windows. The stores were decorated with trees (before they became politically incorrect) and festooned with garlands and giant Christmas balls. They also featured elaborate Santa's Workshops where kids bundled in snowsuits would wait in line to tell Santa what they wanted for Christmas and have their pictures taken. The scenes in the movie "A Christmas Story" where little Ralphie and his family visit Higbee's Department Store got it exactly right.

I find it interesting that 1950s kids believed in Santa Claus for so long compared to today's kids who mostly pretend just to ensure their gifts appear under the tree. We really didn't have a lot, and we needed the hope that a magical fat man in a red suit might bring the things we so badly wanted, even though we knew our parents couldn't afford them. Oh sure, we had doubts, but wanted to dream that we had a shot at that big Erector Set or the snazzy Shwinn bike we would eye greedily in the store window. We would diligently make up our Christmas gift list, putting the thing we wanted most on top, double-underlined. We wished we could pool the money that well-meaning aunts would spend on practical things like clothes and books, and use it to buy the Red Ryder BB Gun that every boy wanted but knew in his heart he never could have.

In our neighborhood, a lot of shopping was done locally. We had a Woolworths, a John's Bargain Store, Vim Furniture,  and all the stores along Pitkin Avenue. There were shoe stores like Thom McAn, Buster Brown, and A.S. Beck (where Tony Boots worked part time), McCrory's Department Store and clothing stores like Moe Ginsberg's and Abe Stark (who gave away free suits to any ballplayer who hit their outfield sign in Ebbets Field). Downtown Brooklyn was another shopper's mecca with A&S, Mays, Martins (where the lovely Jasmine worked in the bridal department after school) and a new chain, E.J. Korvette's. There was no online shopping, no gift cards, and no credit cards...just cash or a check if you were well off enough to have an account.

These are wonderful memories for me. If you've seen the movie "A Christmas Story" (soon to open on Broadway by the way) you will know exactly what my holidays were like. Those times with family and friends will stay with me no matter how much more senile I may get.



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2 comments:

The Whiner said...

I totally and completely agree. I cannot even stand the thought of someone having to go into work on a holiday just because some fools can't wait 5 more hours to stand in line for the one 55-inch TV in stock at Big-Ass Buy for $100. It actually makes me ill. I am trying to do my shopping from independent merchants this year!

Joseph Del Broccolo said...

Your senility aside, your blog is so right! It is not the fault of the retailers that bring out the shoppers, it is the shoppers that bring out the greed in retailers. We need to stay home and away from the stores on holidays, and while we are at it, away from banks and stores on Sundays!