Archives for November 2012

Black Friday! Big Retailers Gone Wild!

Black Friday! Big Retailers Gone Wild!

It’s Black Friday! Let’s Shop!

What does it mean to be thankful?  For my family, we embrace the predictable practices of watching the parades in the morning and getting together with friends and family for a fabulous meal in the evening.  If we are back in Baltimore and I can be with my older sister, we get up early Friday morning to go holiday shopping and take advantage of the “door buster” sales.  We know that the bigger retailers (Walmart, Kmart, Macy’s, Target etc.) will have the greatest deals and discounts early in the morning.

But how early is really too early and will it really make much of a difference whether we shop at 7:00 a.m. or 12 midnight?

This year, the effects of Black Friday are hitting home.  My friend, Sophie, is scheduled to work tonight.  First, she’ll celebrate Thanksgiving with her family.  I am sure that she will relish spending time with her many nieces, grandnieces and grand nephews.  Sophie, a widow, is 74 years old.  Spending time with family, especially on holidays like Thanksgiving is a rare treat.

But after the food has been eaten, the desserts consumed and the left overs parceled out amongst the different households, instead of going home, Sophie will go to work.

Sophie has worked at one of the major department stores for over twenty years.  At first she worked there because she wanted the employee discount, now she works there because she genuinely needs the money.  Unlike many people her age, Sophie is a spry and energetic woman. I’m sure that she has an occasional ache and pain but  she rarely complains about them.  However, she has slowed down a bit recently and gets tired more easily than she did a few years ago.

Tonight this senior citizen is working the mid-night to 10:00 a.m. shift at a suburban department store because, she says, she has to.

Wait? She has to?  I thought that employees LOVED working the Black Friday early morning hours, right?

According to Brad Tuttle’s recent article in Moneyland Time entitled Do Extended Black Friday Hours Actually Increase Sales?,  “…the decision makers at many national stores are taking a literal approach by actually making Black Friday longer than a day, with extended sale hours that actually start on Thursday. The idea is: If something works, then more of it will work better.”  According to many retail analysts, this justification is not accurate.  “Instead of increasing sales, extended hours tend to just redistribute sales over a longer time period. Some consumers may be happier with the extended hours—preferring to shop at midnight on Thanksgiving night rather than 4 a.m. on Friday morning—but they’re unlikely to spend more overall.”

If the impact of “door busting sales” or early incentives isn’t drawing consumers into stores like they used to or impact spending, then why are large chain stores ruining Thanksgiving for many workers by making them come in on a national holiday?

Tuttle’s answer is clear: “We all feel the need to keep up with the Joneses, and no one likes to be left behind.” And that brings me back to Sophie’s story.

Because department stores and big retailers don’t want to be “left behind”, the executives and managers are willing to do what they feel is necessary to ensure that there is staff even when the customers don’t show, say at 2:00 a.m.  Sophie told me that she has never been asked to work on Thanksgiving in the past but has always volunteered to work on “Black Friday” because she gets “time and a half” also known as “holiday pay.” For someone on a fixed a budget, she explains “I can make a lot more working the day after a holiday than at other times of the year.”  But this year, she was told that she HAS to work on Thanksgiving and that all employees are expected to take a shift.  As a way to compensate their employees, the store will offer “box lunches” to the staff.  When I reacted somewhat sarcastically to her explanation, Sophie told me that this was the first year that store has ever given ANYTHING to the staff who work the graveyard shift on Thanksgiving.

I have to be honest, until this year, I never really thought about how staff feel regarding Black Friday.  I figured, like me, there was a certain excitement to shopping at midnight.  And Sophie agreed that being in the store when it opens at mid-night is thrilling but after the first group of shoppers have completed their sales, the store is basically “dead for a few hours.”  She admitted that the next wave of enthusiastic deal seekers will appear around 5:30 a.m. I may be one of them.

I know that this year’s shopping excursion will differ from the ones of the past.  This year, I commit to being more thankful and grateful to the many workers who give up their holiday to work on Black Friday.  Maybe I will give them an extra “thank you” as I complete my transactions?  Or ask one or two people if I can get them a cup of coffee? Even if they decline the offer, I want to be sure that the many clerks, security guards and other staff  like Sophie know that I see and appreciate their willingness to work even if I am buying just a pair of gloves or a toaster at 4 o’clock in the morning on the day after Thanksgiving.  As for Sophie?  I intend to call her at 2 o’clock this morning (yes, I will be setting my alarm) tonight so she knows that she is not alone and is loved by many.


Why American Girl Dolls & Their Stories Are Important To Girls

Why American Girl Dolls & Their Stories Are Important To Girls

A Little Bit About My Daughter

My daughter loves her American Girl (AG) dolls.  Part of the admiration comes from the awe that she feels when she shops at one of the AG stores.  She saves her money all year so she can purchase all sorts of  outfits for her dolls (many of which can be purchased with the matching outfit for her).  It all seems a bit materialistic until you look past the purchasing component and see the truth:  it’s the dolls’ stories that keep my daughter coming back for more.

My daughter, K, has 4 American Girl dolls.  If that seems like a lot, we understand.  But she wound up winning Kit and her best friend, Ruthie, in a school raffle, so we don’t feel as guilty as we might have had K’s grandparents purchased all 4 of the dolls separately.

K & Marie Grace are ready for their night on the town.

What we enjoy about K’s dolls is that each one has a story associated with it.  The purpose of these characters is to show girls today that they can do great things if they believe in themselves and in each other. From a Native American girl living in the Northwest in 1764 to a contemporary girl who uses her strengths to turn challenges into triumphs, the characters in every story illustrate the power of determination, imagination, courage, and hope—the same spirit that inspires modern American girls. It’s also a great way to learn American history!

Historical Characters Make Learning About History Fun

The historical characters’ stories give girls a glimpse into important times in America’s past. Each character’s story is told in a series of compelling books, focusing on such themes as family, school, holiday, birthday, summer, and winter adventures.  Each book has vivid descriptions of time period that the  girl lived in, identifies the variety of challenges a girl living in that specific time would encounter and, finally, how she resolves these conflicts.  Ultimately, the books seem to ignite a passion for life and enthusiasm for “girl power.”

The Samantha Doll or, for me, the One That Got Away

Can You Believe It?  We met AG Writer, Valerie Tripp!

Realizing how much we love the AG stories, you can imagine our excitement when K and I were invited to The American Girl Place (Chicago) by Priceless Chicago and Digital Megaphone to meet the writer of many of the American Girl books, Valerie Tripp.  Ms. Tripp has written many of the initial dolls’ stories including the six books in each of the Felicity, Josefina, Kit and Molly book series, as well as three of Samantha books. (Note: Samantha is my favorite doll and historical period.)

Priceless Chicago treated us to a delicious brunch where we heard Tripp speak about a variety of topics.

The author looks a lot like KIT!

Early in the presentation, Tripp told the audience that regardless of the time period, the first step to writing a successful AG book is to ensure that the reader actually cares about characters and wants to befriend the character. Only then does Tripp start researching the time period.  She seemingly injects herself into the time period and will read about the it, travel to the various places where the action takes place and even take cooking lessons if knowing how the character cooked and ate is an important part of her story.

If the time period forms part of the characters’ personalities, then the specific challenges she faces shape the rest.  According to Tripp: “The goal is to distill major social problems in the period. The characters are an allegory or metaphor for the major social and political problems.” For instance, when she created Kit Kittredge, the author wanted to communicate the girl’s “grit and determination to overcome the economic hardship” of the Depression era.

One of the significant messages of all AG books is: nothing stays the same and that change is inevitable (Remember: You can’t change the wind but you can adjust your sails?)  The books gently help girls understand they have everything that the need to face and overcome their challenges. In the Chrissa, stories, which were not written by Tripp, the author tackles the topic of  bullying. Through Chrissa’s story, the reader learns about the different facets of bullying (isolating and threatening the victim) and follows the main character as she is bullied and ultimately learns how to face her oppressor and solve her seemingly insurmountable problems. (Even as an adult, I learned a few lessons from reading the Chrissa story.)

As Tripp told the audience “The stories are gentle life lessons, humorous, sad, and an honest portrayal.”

What a relief to be aware of places (and authors) whose professional focus remains on ensuring that our daughters have all sorts of positive role models from all different time periods who share essential personality traits like integrity, honesty, humor and an overall appreciation for being a girl.