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Standard Deviations: Black Friday fun, a tale of two stores

By Mark Saal, Standard-Examiner Staff - | Nov 29, 2016
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Customers line up outside Tilly's, at Station Park in Farmington, for the store's Black Friday sale on Thursday, Nov. 24.

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The Ross Dress for Less, at Station Park in Farmington, opened at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 24. Crowds were sparse, as the store offered no Black Friday sales.

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It was the best of sales, it was the worst of sales …

Think of today’s column as “A Tale of Two Retail Outlets.” One, bustling with activity; the other, as quiet as the proverbial tomb.

Now, admittedly, we’re talking about two stores with completely different approaches to the retail sales model. Tilly’s sells hip clothing to people who likely have more money than sense. And Ross Dress for Less sells sensible clothing to people who are more likely to break a hip.

Ah, but we’re getting ahead of the story …

I’ve never been shopping on a “Black Friday.” Or “Brown Thursday,” for that matter. Or even “Small Business Saturday,” “Cyber Monday,” or what some Mormons might refer to as “Ox in the Mire Sunday.”

Rather, I prefer to do my holiday shopping during what many of us like to call “Desperation Weekend.” It’s usually my last days off before Christmas, when I suddenly realize I’m out of shopping days. In life, as in journalism, I need a deadline breathing down my neck before I can think about completing a task.

Still, a large portion of the country kicks off the holiday shopping season in the hours and days following the traditional Thanksgiving feast, and I wanted to experience this firsthand. So, on Thanksgiving night, just as I was emerging from my turkey-induced coma, I determined to see what all of the fuss was about.

I’m shopper-savvy enough to know that the official kickoff of the holiday sales season can be a rough-and-tumble affair, with customers pushing and shoving — and in some cases even brandishing weapons. But most of those horror stories center around blue-collar big-box stores like Wal-Mart. Surely, I reasoned, post-Thanksgiving sales at the more upscale shops around town would be a bit more genteel.

And so, on Thanksgiving night I drove to tony Station Park, in Farmington, to experience Black Friday Lite. Someone had told me Ross Dress for Less was opening at 6 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, and that seemed as safe a place as any for testing the waters of this ritual known as “doorbusting.” After all, Ross is described on Google as a “retail chain selling brand-name clothing, shoes, accessories and housewares at discount prices.” It sounded just sensible enough.

Arriving a little before 6 p.m., I thought I would find at least one or two bargain hunters with their noses pressed against the glass, waiting for Ross to open. No such luck. In fact, there wasn’t a single shopper waiting for the store to open.

But then, several storefronts down in this upscale strip mall, something caught my eye. A good-sized crowd was gathered outside one of the stores. I wandered down.

It was a place called Tilly’s, which that same Google search engine describes as a “SoCal-born chain stocking surf- and skate-inspired brand-name clothing, shoes and accessories.”

There were 86 people waiting in a rope line outside Tilly’s for the 6 p.m. opening. I know it was 86 because the friendly store manager, Christian, told me they’d given out that many wristbands. The store was offering the first 100 Black Friday customers a Tilly’s reusable tote bag, along with other giveaways like store credit, an iPhone 7, a Macbook Air, and virtual reality goggles.

A half-hour after Thursday night’s opening, three generations of women in one Bountiful-area family — Sherise, Jennica and LuAnn — emerged from Tilly’s with merchandise aplenty and smiles on their faces. With their doorbuster deals, they’d saved an additional $5 on each item they purchased. The plan now, they said, was to head for Wal-Mart, then back to Station Park by midnight for the Black Friday opening at Victoria’s Secret.

And in the morning, on Black Friday proper? Who knows? Something told me this Davis County family wouldn’t be getting much sleep over the next 24 hours.

Meanwhile, back at Ross, every 15 minutes or so, another one or two people would wander in from the cold November night, blinking in the glare of the store’s industrial lighting.

I attempted to interview the manager at Ross, but he said corporate wouldn’t allow him to speak with the media. It’s probably just as well, as I imagine he would have had a hard time explaining why that same corporation was asking employees to work on Thanksgiving — especially when Ross didn’t have a single sale to add to the Black Friday oeuvre.

“Personally, the holidays aren’t what they used to be,” confided one sales associate, obviously unhappy about working on Thanksgiving. “People have ruined them because they’re greedy.”

So then, without any killer doorbusters to attract shoppers, what could possibly entice anyone to visit Ross Dress for Less on the holiday itself?

Sheer boredom, apparently.

“We’re not even out looking for deals,” admitted one woman who declined to identify herself. “We were just done eating, and we had a little free time and thought we’d come shopping.”

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SEMarkSaal.


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