A Retail Worker Dishes All The Dirty Details About Black Friday

Another Thanksgiving holiday has passed; the debate continues over whether stores should be open and consumers should patronize those stores or make a point of avoiding them. The sanctity of the holiday and what it represents to many people, versus the desire to make an extra buck, will continue. It has become a flash point in the evolving battle of family values and the need for people to relax and socialize, pitted against more and more stores seeing the holiday as a chance to stay open and sell, sell, sell.

My brother-in-law D was one of those retail store workers who worked late on Thanksgiving Day and into the early hours of Black Friday. Our extended family ate Thanksgiving dinner earlier than usual, in order to accommodate his work schedule. And while the rest of us ate a leisurely dessert, D donned his work clothes, grabbed his name tag and drove off to the nearby shopping mall.

I spoke with D at dinner the day after Thanksgiving and he had interesting observations to make about his Black Friday stint. He is a salesman at his local Macy’s and worked this holiday shift in luggage. He worked from 8 PM to 6 AM, and volunteered to stay until 6:30 to help with the cleaning. Among the things he noted were:

1. A large percentage of the shoppers were tourists, especially from Europe.
2. A considerable number of teenagers came to Macy’s but didn’t actually shop. They came to take selfies of themselves being a part of the overnight Black Friday experience. They were especially prevalent from 10 PM to 2 PM.
3. Many people paid in cash, and D saw a lot of hundred dollar bills in use.
4. The hardest part of the Black Friday shift was the clean up afterward. He described throwing away food and drink left in changing rooms, re-stocking linens yanked out of packaging and dropped on the floor, re-arranging luggage set pieces in disarray, and much more.
5. Macy’s provided the workers with coffee, bagels and other food for their breaks.
6. Although he did not see shoppers squabbling with each other over items, nor did he see any stampedes. He said:

“People don’t get into fights over mattress covers; ?you see that stuff on the news.”

He did come across some people who tried to make returns with cheaper products hiding under pricier packaging.

D said that several stores at this particular suburban shopping mall were open in addition to Macy’s. He noted that last year the stores first started opening at 10PM and the year before they did so at midnight. He predicts that next year opening time will be at 6 PM, following this upward creep of the hours.

While there is outcry among many Americans about pre-Black Friday shopping and its intrusion upon the Thanksgiving holiday, it appears to be here to stay. We should know about how workers are impacted by this and how it affects holiday celebrations.

Ellen Levitt is the author of The Lost Synagogues of Brooklyn (2009), The Lost Synagogues of the Bronx and Queens (2011) and The Lost Synagogues of Manhattan (2013), all published by Avotaynu. She is a lifelong New Yorker, a veteran public school teacher, writer and photographer. Bird lover as well.