Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday Morning in Mill Basin: Black Friday Sales at the Kings Plaza Shopping Center

We left Williamsburg before dawn and when we arrived around 7:45 a.m. at the Kings Plaza Shopping Center, the mall was crowded with Black Friday shoppers eagerly snapping up doorbusters and other bargain sales.

We have nothing to compare it with, but it appeared that a lot of Brooklynites were spending a lot of money on a lot of items at Macy's, Sears, H&M, Old Navy and the other stores.

Having no idea what this means for the economic future - is the Great Recession finally ending? - we did notice that the shoppers seemed deliberate and determined but not frenzied, and everyone appeared to be pretty much in a good mood.

All of this, like most Black Friday reporting, is of course merely anecdotal. The sales figures which will reported eventually will tell the story. Black Friday store reporting almost always seems to exaggerate the size of the day's cash register take and the intensity of the bargain hunters.

We don't go to Kings Plaza several times a week, as we did in the years after it first opened in September 1970, when we were 18 and our father owned a store here. In Summer in Brooklyn, a book which records our diary entries from the period 1969-1975, we seem to have spent more time in this indoor mall - New York City's first - than anywhere but the house, four blocks from here, where our family lived, and the campus of Brooklyn College, where we were a student.

Anyway, no longer a regular in this mall, we don't know how to compare today's crowds to, say, a "typical" busy Saturday of shopping. Of course, on a normal day, no stores are open before 8 a.m. and only elderly mall-walkers may be present. When we worked in the menswear department of the late and generally unlamented Alexander's, we got on the floor at 9:45 a.m. for a 10 a.m. opening that was standard in 1974. Before we hit 25, the only reason we'd ever take public transportation at 6:20 a.m. as we did today was a notice to appear at our draft physical at Fort Hamilton. (And Uncle Sam would reimburse us the 35-cent fare.)

The first worker we spotted inside the mall when we walked in was the Salvation Army lady and her homophobic kettle. Much later we'd see a group of them setting up at the Atlantic Center. Today's their first day of work for the season. Today that annoying bell went, thankfully, unheard in the general din.

We took a pic of us being monitored by the Kings Plaza security office. Hey, guys, maybe you could have had this in the 1970s when our brother Marc's Camaro got stolen out of your parking lot? (Of course, our '73 Mercury Comet got stolen from in front of our house on East 56th Street.)

One of the first things shoppers come across when they come in the main entrance on Flatbush just north of Avenue U is the bank of ATMs from Chase, formerly Washington Mutual, formerly Dime Savings Bank of New York, formerly Dime Savings Bank of Brooklyn, where we had a little blue passbook with never more than $200 in it back in the day when we made $2 an hour at Alexander's (take home for 20 hours a week was about $32). Anyway, better get out that cash first, kids, and skip the credit cards that got us all into this fine mess.

To those "first time visitors," as StatCounter refers to you, we humbly but insincerely apologize in advance for the blurriness of the crappy cell phone pics we've made our ouevre.

Lots of folks were carrying these big, puffy bags from Macy's. We suspect their bulk is deceptive and that Macy's was having a blowout on pillows, or perhaps quilts. They looked more quilty (like Humbert's nemesis Claire, come to think of it) than pillowy.

These little kiosks, like the T-shirt guy, were either doing great business or nada nada nada. Their overhead isn't nada, like you might nada, but then their profit nada can be nada too. Take it from someone whose brothers ran a business called Only Shirts in the South's Biggest Flea Market, Fort Lauderdale's Sunrise Swap Shop.

A surprising number of people were lined up for food at this cookie place - we're sure that addictive smell must be made by Monsanto - and at other food outlets, even Sbarro. Pizza at 8 a.m.? Sbarro was next door to the store our dad owned with our uncle Matty (Slack Bar, Fulton Street downtown), Syd Siegel (Sid's Pants, numerous), Jack Lubel (Jack's Slacks on 86th and Bay Parkway) and Jimmy Saracino (Jay's Men's Wear on Roosevelt near Main in Flushing). Our favorite long-gone Kings Plaza food places were Cooky's, Bun 'n' Burger (two great chains) and the crepe place - not so much Zum Zum, Eddie Arcaro or Nathan's.

Santa was AWOL, but if he had been there, cell phone pics of his fatness couldn't have been taken beyond a certain point. Our favorite mall Santa story was when we were walking with a friend in the late 1980s in the Aventura Mall in what was then North Miami Beach. We passed Santa Claus walking in the opposite direction, and he waved and said, "Hi, Mr. Grayson!" Our friend gasped and said, "He does know if you've been bad or good." Only if you're a teacher at Broward Community College, we assumed.

Macy's used to have an entrance on the Avenue U side of the mall by East 55th Street. That's how we always walked here from our house and so we'd usually come into Kings Plaza there when we weren't so lazy we'd drive the four blocks. We got chicken pox at age 21 in our last semester at Brooklyn College and when we started feeling better on the first nice spring break, we escaped the house and came here - despite our next door Evie Wagman's warning that we'd be spreading the disease. Since we got it from our brother who'd gotten it from her 10-year-old son, we ignored that advice. An hour in the mall can fix anything, even varicella, when you're young.

Of course, when you're of a certain age, you can conk out at 9 a.m. after a hard morning of shop-till-you-drop.

People had some good hauls, even by that relatively early hour, and started heading out.

We don't remember Black Fridays in the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s and our ethnic heritage is 100% Garmento. Every one of the 581 pre-1981 instances of the term "Black Friday" in the New York Times refer almost exclusively to specific financial panics, crashes or scandals or some non-shopping-related event, usually one in which someone got fleeced.

The first article that referred to the traditional start of the Xmas shopping season we found was in 1987, a mood piece on Garden State Plaza on the day after Thanksgiving, and it seemed to take it for granted that everyone knew what the term meant:

Today, after all, is Black Friday, believed to be among the most hectic shopping days - if not the most hectic - of the year. Although Santa made his annual debut here last week, for many this marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season.

In the next four weeks, many retailers expect to pull in one quarter to half of their yearly revenues.

This year they are more concerned than usual. Retail analysts have forecast a bleak holiday season, largely because Black Friday comes only six weeks after Black Monday, the day the stock market plunged.

Ah yes, we remember it well. Something about Dubai World debt, right? Whatever, just keep shopping and maybe the real unemployment rate will fall below 17%.

The lone empty-handed passenger, we caught the B41 bus to the Junction with a lot of bargain hunters with shopping bags,

along with one guy who had to bring in his giant flat-screen TV through the back door and needed our help to get it out.

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