Box buster

Black Friday Bus Shopping Trip

Wait a minute … this isn’t Best Buy! BLVD at Plumgate shopping center participated in the Black Friday Bus Shopping Trip.

Wait a minute … this isn’t Best Buy! BLVD at Plumgate shopping center participated in the Black Friday Bus Shopping Trip.

The 2nd Annual Black Friday Bus Shopping Trip led participants away from the morass of chain-store and mega-mart shopping, darkening instead the doorways of local small businesses that appreciate—and rely on—every last customer.

Thanksgiving is something like a false calm before the storm. It’s become a national day of truce before our culture’s violent yearly descent into the Christmas shopping season. It’s a day when millions of Americans sit surrounded by family, relishing the emotional warmth, gazing at the bounty of their spread—and synchronizing their watches. Tonight they will digest their food; tomorrow they will tear every mall in this town to bloody shreds.

Registering a complaint
Taking the occasional light-hearted jab at the consumerism shrouding the holidays is a requisite part of the season. No one wants to be reminded of the ugly machinery behind retail sales while shopping for a cashmere scarf for Mom, but come this time of year, it’s almost all we hear about. How much will Americans spend? How does that figure compare to what they spent last year? Will there be enough Nintendo Wii game systems for all of us?

The day after Thanksgiving, known by the cryptically colloquial “Black Friday,” has become the unofficial barometer of our national economic climate and is supposed to launch holiday shoppers off of the spending starting block. It also causes a fair amount of stress for both spender and spendee; one that typically doesn’t relent until some time after the New Year.

Ma & Pa vs. Them
While it’s not exactly a full-blown turf war, the protracted competition between mega-stores and small retailers is intense. With limited expendable dollars floating around, the stakes are high for everyone who slings merchandise for a living. Add a heavy slump in retail sales nationwide, however, and the contest takes on the heated tenacity of a Hatfield-McCoy-style feud. But instead of a protracted stalemate, there is usually a consistent winner when these two camps square off, and it’s usually the one with the most shopping carts.

Black Friday is preceded by a cavalcade of major store sale advertisements promising cheap, euphoric shopping experiences. For small businesses, holiday advertising is often an exercise in economy. Since the lone independent dollar often has to stretch further than the myriad corporate ones to reach its target audience, the promise of a Black Friday actually spent in the black is no foregone conclusion for small retailers.

Local retailers, like Paper Moon, keep money in the community.

Photo By David Robert

Two local business owners attempted to dispel some of the apprehension lurking around 2007 retail sales with the 2nd Annual Black Friday Bus Shopping Trip. Jessica Schneider, owner of Decorating with Style and host of the Reno Style Show on KREN, and Cathy Blair, co-owner of Vino100, put together the bus tour last year as a way to introduce locals to an alternative to big box-store shopping.

Folding green à la Femme
A group of about 100 local women gather around two tour buses with credit cards strapped and ready. The group may look like early congregants in front of a Lilith Fair stage, but Schneider insists that men are welcome, as well. She says the demographic of the Black Friday shopping trip reflects a national trend. “Statistically, women are the primary shoppers in the household. They are in some homes the primary income maker, and they are currently behind the drive pushing small businesses to the forefront,” says Schneider. “So who better to tailor the tour to? However, if a man wanted to come, we wouldn’t say no—in fact, we’d love it!”

Hear that, fellas? This sounds like a potentially charmed social experiment for next year’s trip, like being the only male student enrolled in a feminist lit class in college.

When debate over the pros and cons of shopping at small businesses in lieu of chain stores ensues, the discussion tends to drift toward intangibles, like ennui and disgust. The Black Friday Shopping Trip was formed around the idea that the amenities offered by small businesses make them well-worth the extra effort and, potentially, the extra pocket change. Visions of jostling, elbow to elbow, with every other “smart” shopper at 5 a.m., plumbing for early deals are at the crux of the anti-box-store perspective.

As intangibles go, small businesses often contain an element of comfort and an un-harried atmosphere rarely found in chain stores during the holiday shopping season. “Instead of rushing to the mall to get the latest thing, we offer a day of luxury and pampering during a time of year when life seems to be going at the speed of light,” says Schneider.

The founders of the local shopping trip don’t aim to put a large dent in the sales of monolith chain-stores. “We know that no matter what, [shoppers] will go to the big box stores, but we want to show them that great shops exist in Reno. Plus, it allows small businesses to have a Black Friday—just like the big box stores,” she said.

For a $37.50 price tag, the ladies of the Black Friday trip cruise around town in two 53-seat buses, making stops at shopping venues like Plumbgate and California Avenue.

Jessica Schneider, owner of Decorating with Style and coordinator of the Black Friday Bus Shopping Trip, arranges some of the products in her store.

Photo By David Robert

“We offer wine tasting all day, lunch this year at ZoZo’s, and the merchants donate raffle items to the shoppers,” says Schneider.

Last year, the shopping trip sold out just one bus—this year, two. Schneider and Blair anticipate having enough participants next holiday season to fill up twice that many seats. The list of local businesses clamoring to be included on the trip is growing, as well.

“We currently have a waiting list for both women to ride the bus and merchants who want to be on the tour,” says Schneider.

A pleasantly counterintuitive aspect of the group shopping trip is that it is not solely about consumerism, conscious though it may be. According to Schneider, there are social benefits, as well. She says that many of the attendees who started as strangers are buddies by day’s end. Such a pretty picture: People who shop together, bond together. It probably doesn’t hurt that they all get slightly-toasted together, too.

“We have a grand old time,” says Schneider. “We play music, have raffles, talk about each shop, and just hang out meeting new friends and old.”

Step away from that pallet of crap
The first step is to close your eyes and back slowly away from the box store. Don’t worry; I’m holding your hand. We are going to have a different holiday shopping experience this year. Don’t be afraid to buy yourself two presents for every one gift for someone else. This is supposed to be fun. Here, have a glass of wine and kick off your shoes. On second thought, this is a bus, so let’s not get crazy.

As corporate chains energetically vie with one another for the patronage of Joe Shopper, these local Black Friday day-trippers watch the scene from afar, through the laid-back vantage of their tour bus windows and wine-y fog.

There goes the neighborhood.

Editor’s note: Our freelance writer, Cheron Taylor, is the owner of a small, independent business in Reno.