The weekly Daley: Holiday shopping; get it while you can

By From page A4 | November 15, 2013

Not very many people have started shopping for their Affordable Care Act health insurance plans yet, but there’s still lots of time, program designers say. Unlike Christmas which is only about six weeks off, Obamacare shoppers have until the end of March next year to sign up. That’s a lifetime for many of us who find it easier to put off to tomorrow what you could and should have done last week, month, decade.

I guess I haven’t gotten out much in the past week or two. I’ve not been aware of Christmas music in the stores I go to regularly which seems a little unusual. Christmas music has been on the pipes the day after Halloween in many places I recall over the past several years, and wrapping paper, ribbon and tinsel balls are usually spilling off the shelves and into the shopping carts filled with now “50 percent off selected candies.”

Now, there is a small Christmas tree (or is it a seasonal foliage symbol?) right by the security gate at the county’s main library in Placerville. I saw it there Tuesday and thought it was kind of surprising. I don’t know if it’s a real tree or not, but if it is, it will be pretty funky come Christmas. The library tree was surprising because I don’t think of the library in the same context as I think of Walmart or Kmart or other big department stores whose make-or-break revenue typically rolls in during the weeks before Christmas.

The library isn’t retail and doesn’t sell stuff for the most part. The library won’t be open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving to give early birds a chance to take full advantage of the season of love and sharing and family and friendship and good will and good wishes. While doing a grab ‘n go on things called  “X-things” and “i-things” and stimulating games that teach children the joys of incinerating busloads of aliens from Planet Alienica or swimming in rivers of blood from the ruptured veins of creepy villains.

According to a few related reports, it turns out the ad wizards and marketing gurus know what they’re doing. They’re going after the late-teens through the 20s demographic. They know those people will have had their fill of family traditions and of hearing all the old stories from the dark ages of Cousin Patty and Uncle Ralph. I’m not making any of this up. I read all about it in reliable news sources.

“Nobody is going to be allowed to host a party on Thanksgiving night, so they’re all going to meet at the mall,” said John D. Morris, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets. “It’s like a built-in social occasion to get out of the house.” From a daily online report, “The Rundown.”

In a weird kind of twist, money spent on Thanksgiving Day won’t be counted as Black Friday income, so over the past year or two, the receipts from the historically biggest shopping day of the year have been down by a couple of percentage points. I’m sure the retailers don’t care whether the dough comes in on Thursday instead of Friday, but I guess it alters the accounting to some degree and maybe changes the name from Black Friday to “Fairly Black Friday.”

The same source notes that stores, (several of which I’ve never heard of) are competing for the prime opening slots, from 8 p.m. down to 5 p.m. Many of the ones mentioned seem to be in New York City, but a lot of those have outlets across the country, of course.

Call me a curmudgeon, but somehow an economy so heavily reliant on retail spending seems like an economy that is potentially pretty shaky. Millions spent on Barbies and G.I. Joes and flimsy plastic stuff and video games keeps money circulating, no doubt. But it also seems vulnerable to all kinds of external factors. Suppose people get scared of (plague, locusts, typhoons and you name it) and start cutting way back on these “throw-away” non-necessities. When it comes to having to choose between Barbies and food… Well, we know what happens. The rest of the economy starts tanking. And everything else goes south too, from jobs to wages to the housing and automobile markets.

In my opinion, the ideal Black Friday would be the day that announcements flood the airwaves calling our attention to the ground-breaking for the new bridge over the Mississippi or the new port at San Pedro or the new BART extension from Portland to San Diego. How about a new wind farm in Texas and a bullet train from Chicago to San Francisco or a new space launch facility in Florida. An announcement that broadband will have been installed everywhere in the country by Christmas would be fun. Those would be things a nation could sink its teeth into as signs of health and wellbeing.

Record sales of Barbies and Xboxes? Doesn’t do it for me.

Chris Daley is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. His column appears each Friday.

Chris Daley

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