It’s a brisk morning in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill. The cold autumn wind is settling in just as dozens of small, locally-owned businesses get set to open for day two — Small Business Saturday — of Thanksgiving weekend.
Since 2009, American Express has marketed the day after Black Friday as Small Business Saturday. During the five-day weekend, the National Retail Federation (NRF) estimated that 164 million Americans planned to shop. The NRF survey predicted that about 67 million Americans were planning to shop on Saturday, compared to 116 million on Black Friday.
“It’s kind of an urban legend or a myth almost,” said Edward Tomaselli, a manager at Mask y Mas in Nob Hill. “People just come out instinctively.” Masks y Mas has been a Nob Hill staple for 15 years. He said during the Black Friday weekend, his shop sees a 10 percent increase in sales.
Off Broadway Vintage Clothes and Costumes manager Kenneth Ansloan said the weekend brings in “a lot of people from out of town.” Ansloan said in his ten years as manager, the Black Friday weekend typically brings a modest increase of in-person sales.
American Express offers its small business customers a variety of advertising resources during this period. Storefront posters, online images and filters for profile pictures, all uniformly branded in blue and white, are available for free, in addition to the “Shop Small” television advertisements.
The Black Friday tradition, or urban legend as Tomaselli put it, has its origins deep in American history. One of the earliest uses of the phrase was in 1869.
According to University of Delaware professor Kenneth Ackerman, a conspiracy to corner the gold market nearly sent the U.S. into an economic depression. Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, both railroad executives, secretly bought millions of dollars of gold, while Abel Corbin, Grant’s brother-in-law, convinced the president to leave the U.S. gold supply alone, allowing the price to reach unprecedented heights.
Grant eventually became suspicious that Corbin was involved in the rumored “gold ring.” On Friday, Sept. 24, Grant ordered the Treasury Secretary to flood the gold market by selling-off $4 million of the U.S. gold supply, effectively ending the conspiracy. The move bankrupted several firms. Fisk and Gould escaped prosecution, never spending a night in jail.
About 100 years later, Philadelphia reporter Joseph Barrett recalled that he and colleague Nathan Kleger “put together a front-page story for Thanksgiving and we appropriated the police term ‘Black Friday’ to describe the terrible traffic conditions.” That article was published in The Philadelphia Bulletin in 1959.
As the phrase relates to merchants “getting into the black,” The Wall Street Journal linguistic columnist Ben Zimmer tracked down the origins to the 1980’s. Zimmer said “the ‘back in the black’ explanation was clearly a way to rebrand Black Friday with more positive connotations.”
Charles Owen, store manager of New Mexico Look on Central Avenue, said in 2018 “we’ve been trained that you have to go out and do Christmas presents.” He added that he didn’t think it was a bad thing. ‘What would happen if you showed up and you said ‘mom I’m sorry, I decided I’m not buying you a christmas present?” Owen said.
From Thanksgiving to Christmas, the National Retail Federation expects American consumers to spend over $700 billion.
Justin Garcia is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers ASUNM. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Just516garc.