Spirited "Black Friday" has dark roots

Fri Nov 25, 2011 8:56pm EST
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By Martinne Geller

(Reuters) - Most Americans associate the words "Black Friday" with the ritual of excited consumers rising early to begin holiday shopping in search of doorbuster deals, but the term's origins have a deeper, darker meaning.

The Friday after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, known as "Black Friday," now marks the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season, the most critical time of the year for the nation's $4 trillion retail sector.

It is also the busiest shopping day of the year, as chain stores pry bargain-hungry shoppers from their turkey-induced slumbers for early discounts and special deals.

Industry lore says the name once referred to when retailers would turn a profit, or go "into the black," for the year.

"Some people felt that this was the day of reckoning -- either we're going to make it on this day or not," said Walter Loeb, president of Loeb Associates, a management consultancy to the retail industry.

Of course not all retailers lost money, or were "in the red," for the first three quarters, Loeb said, but the day came to be seen as a barometer for the holiday season, which can account for the bulk of a retailer's annual sales.

Yet the term itself is much older than modern retail.

Dictionary.com says "Black Friday" was used to describe September 24, 1869, which, according to the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, was a Friday when two stock manipulators tried to corner the gold market and caused its collapse.   Continued...

<p>Occupy Wall Street protesters demonstrate outside Macy's department store in New York November 25, 2011. REUTERS/Eric Thayer</p>