Thursday, November 27, 2014

Holding, but not for effect (a future Black Thursday)

Yes, I know that I was supposed to run another post today, but circumstances dictate that I hold that previously written post for a while. And no, I'm not holding for effect.

So to fill the time, I figured that I'd tell a story about the future.

It was before dawn on Thanksgiving morning, and Kent was excited. Sure, it was going to be a long day, but there was still a sense of excitement about it. Kent lived in the United States of America, and all Americans knew what Thanksgiving morning meant.


Not that Kent was going to do any shopping himself, of course, but to Kent this day meant a steady paycheck, because he worked in retail. And when you worked in retail, everyone got a chance to work on Thanksgiving day, whether they wanted to or not.

Kent's father had told him about the old days, back in the 20th century, when stores would actually close on Thanksgiving Day. Back in those days, Black Thursday happened on Friday. (They called it Black Friday, of course.) In those days, Thursday would be the day that you'd relax in anticipation of Friday shopping. Eventually, however, some stores figured that there was no point in waiting for Friday to start the Christmas selling season. Why not start Thursday, when everyone was off of work anyway, and make a bigger splash?

This was Kent's third year of working at Spenacy's - his father remembered when Spenacy's was actually four separate stores, Sears, KMart, J.C. Penney, and Macy's - and Kent had the routine down pat. Get to work early in the morning, before the sun came up, for the very important Black Thursday launch meeting. This was when the store manager provided last minute instructions to the staff on security procedures, sale hours, and the like.

This year, there was a little twist. In past years, there was a marked difference between the Spenacy's "suits" and the people who did the real work. Employee clubs (there were no unions at Spenacy's) often berated the corporate office people who took it easy while the employees were managing the holiday crowds in the stores. Well, that changed this year. The corporate employees, rather than having Thanksgiving Day off, were required to go to a nearby store and help out. Kent's store even had a special guest, a senior vice president from Spenacy's Shanghai headquarters. His English wasn't all that good, but the employees knew what he meant when he said, "Make good sale!"

At 5:55, someone gently reminded the senior vice president that he had to quit speaking. Security left the meeting immediately and rushed to the front doors, ready to manage the crowds. The rest of the Spenacy's employees followed, getting into their positions in their departments. Most of the suits went to the special returns section - the store knew from experience that if the store opened at 6:00, the first returns would start coming in around 7:00, either because the shoppers bought duplicate gifts, or they were able to secure a better deal at one of Spenacy's competitors (Waltareleven was a fierce price competitor).

Kent was in position in automotive when the loudspeaker announced, "Welcome to Spenacy's! The store is now open!"

Then, nothing.

Kent kept looking at the aisle that led toward the front of the store, but there were no shoppers running up the aisle.

After two minutes of no customers, Kent realized that something was seriously wrong. Perhaps security couldn't unlock the doors. Perhaps the shoppers rushed the doors and were being held back while injuries - or even deaths - were being attended to.

Kent was about to ask his supervisor if he could leave his position and go up front to see what was happening, but then his supervisor walked up herself to check things out. Kent followed.

As the employees left their positions and walked toward the front of the store, they saw - nothing.

Not a single shopper had come to the store. The lot was empty except for the employee and corporate cars.

If nothing else, Kent expected to see his neighbor Brandon there. Brandon's kids all had their own cars, and Kent had told Brandon about the 6 AM sales on automotive products. Brandon expressed interest in some of the products, so Kent figured that Brandon would be at Spenacy's bright and early.

Kent snuck back to his locker, pulled out his personal cell phone, and called Brandon's house.

One of Brandon's daughters answered.

"Hey, is your father there?" Kent asked.

"No," answered Brandon's daughter. "He had to go to work early today. He'll probably be working until about 8."

"So he has to go into work for two hours on Thanksgiving?"

"No, fourteen hours. He gets off at 8. Oh, I meant to say 8 pm."

Kent put his phone back in his locker. Then he remembered that Brandon said he'd be having a busy week at work. He worked for a software company that provided a payment application for mobile devices, and his company wanted all employees to be available on Thursday to assist in case there were any payment app problems at the retailers.

As Kent walked back to automotive, he did see a stray customer or two wandering around the store. A mother with a crying baby who was looking for formula. A guy with dirty hands who needed four quarts of oil right then. A couple of kids on their way to school (schools were open that day) who just wanted some candy.

As the day wore on, and as the employees and corporate help spent most of their time standing around, it slowly dawned on the corporate vice president and everyone else:

Everyone was so busy working on the Thanksgiving Day sales, or supporting the Thanksgiving Day sales, or supporting the supporters, that no one had any time to shop.
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