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    Philly’s Sinister History of Black Friday and a GREAT alternative

    Everyone is asking about my Thanksgiving plans – it is just a few days away. But, really, I am more interested in the day after.

    For many people excited about the holiday gifting season and the lure of fabulous deals,“Black Friday,” after Thanksgiving is cherished as THE day to shop. 

    Maybe you are currently tempted with scoring an unbelievable deal at 4 a.m. or getting your hands on the one gift that will make someone smile this holiday season. I get it, trust me. The holidays can be stressful and expensive, and retailers have made it seem that there are no other options.

    But, oh, my new friend! There are other options! So many options! Options with fresh air and singing birds. Options with fresh snow and crackling leaves. Options that will leave you rosy-cheeked and breathless. There are even health benefits and stress reduction

    The Sinister History of Black Friday

    But before I reveal your revised plans for Friday, November 23, let’s dig into the past.

    The history of Black Friday is not all sweet and tied in a pretty ribbon. Our own beautiful city is responsible for the sinister origins of Black Friday.

    During the 1950’s, Philadelphia Police used the term to describe the day after Thanksgiving when shoppers and tourists would descend upon the streets of Philadelphia in advance of the Saturday Army/Navy game. Supposedly, “Black Friday” referred to the long shifts that police would have to work because of the extra visitors, as well as the uprise in shoplifters who would take advantage of the chaos.

    By 1961, Philadelphia retailers tried to capitalize on the influx of tourists by pushing the name “Big Friday”. When that didn’t catch, retailers in the late ‘80’s managed to turn the negative connotations associated with “Black Friday” into positive cash flow, by linking the term with retailers’ books being in the “black” or profitable. It spread, and it stuck to a nationwide ethos that Christmas is about getting the deals before anyone else. Since then, a one-day shopping spree has evolved into a four-day event with Black Friday followed by Small Business Saturday and Cyber-Monday.

    So, if you aren’t going to shop on Friday and you don’t want to stay under the covers rewatching Mozart in the Jungle, what are you going to do?

    The world of retail experienced a bit of a shock in 2015, when the outdoor retailer, REI, took an unexpected jump and announced the closing of all of their stores on Black Friday, They coined a new phrase,  #optoutside, and proclaimed that all 12,000 employees would be paid for a day off – not to find the hottest deal for holiday shopping, but to take time off to be where all of that gear wants to take us – outside.


    As a co-op, Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) aligns with the #optoutside rebranding to get people outdoors. It was founded in 1938 as a “national outdoor retail co-op dedicated to inspiring, educating and outfitting its members and the community for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.” 

    Since 2015, #optoutside participants have grown from 170 outdoor companies, nonprofits, organizations and 1.4 million people to 700+ companies in 2017 with more than 7 million participants. And the easiest part? REI provides resources to help you find activities, trails, parks and lists the 50 best cities to #optoutside, inclusive of Philadelphia! Within 25 miles of my humble abode in the suburbs, there are 78 hiking trails, 69 trails for running, and 40 trails for mountain biking!

    So, this Thanksgiving, plan a Friday off that doesn’t include waiting in lines to spend money. Find yourself on a trail for hiking, in a park for birdwatching, or about the city for wandering, and #optoutside instead! I’ll see you out there!

    Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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    Tiffany Borsch

    About Tiffany Borsch

    Tiffany has been spreading the sustainable word to anyone who would listen since the early 90s. She’s a science teacher, camping enthusiast, and lover of food straight from the soil.

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