Ah, Black Friday.
The busiest retail day in America, a paean to consumerism with images of the Capital One Huns and Visigoths gathering in predawn siege before retail palaces promising super sales and blowout bonanzas.
On the Vineyard? Not so much.
The day after Thanksgiving does officially kick off holiday shopping here as everywhere, but in a context of artfully designed community celebrations that don’t shout Everything Must Go!
Here it’s more like Everyone Must Come.
In retail America, the holiday season is a 30-day period when traditionally 30 to 40 per cent of annual sales are realized. On the Vineyard we call that period August. As a result, at this time of year Vineyard merchants spend less time and energy on spinning Santas and blinking Rudolphs and more time with customers.
For Susie Pacheco, owner of Vintage Jewelry in Edgartown, holiday shopping means she and her staff have time to counsel husbands and boyfriends who are specifically looking for, you know, something nice.
“Men wait until the last few days, maybe even the last day. We help them, talk with them and find out what the woman really likes. The goal is a successful gift,” she said, adding: “A lot of our customers are regulars and we know them and their families.” Actually knowing the customer. Imagine that.
Based on 25 years of Island retailing, Ms. Pacheco does have holiday sales on regular merchandise but she sees the holiday season kickoff as something that goes beyond sales.
“What I enjoy is that feeling that the holiday season is under way and it’s not manufactured by glitzy promotions,” she said. Typically, she said, Thanksgiving week end produces a flurry of business, then a slowdown until Christmas in Edgartown, this year on the weekend of Dec. 8. Her business then slows until the week before Christmas when last-minute shopping begins.
While Island retailers do lay in holiday-related inventories (stores like Bunch of Grapes, Edgartown Books and Tilton’s Market in Tisbury come to mind), Island stores are also perfect places to pick through last summer’s inventory and find that priceless pair of mauve Crocs in size two for $3.99, created just for that four-year-old nephew who ruined your dining room table last summer with a sand shovel.
How about a watercolor of Norton Beach painted before the breach for Aunt Rose who lives in Nebraska and will never know the difference? On second thought, breachless Norton beach art might just be a winner. Forget Aunt Rose, keep it yourself and buy her a cool Mocha Mott’s watch cap in Oak Bluffs. Get the black number with the grimacing face. She’ll love it.
Americans generally consider Islanders to be somewhat creative but odd people. If you’d like to show reverence for that perception, go to The Devil’s Dictionary in Vineyard Haven for some laugh out loud stocking stuffers like The Last Supper after dinner mints. Yes, the packaging is just what you think it is.
For more traditional Christmas gifts, try the Artisans Festival at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury, Not Wal Mart prices but not Wal Mart fashions either.
Actually Islanders do love the authentic part of the holiday season. Seems there’s a little Jimmy Stewart in all of us, we believe it’s a wonderful life. And while events like Christmas in Edgartown have a commercial touristy core, we go to them because everyone else will be there. And we want to see everyone else, sip a little chowder at the Red Stocking fundraiser, maybe slip them an extra donation.
And the Evening of Enchantment at Donaroma’s Nursery is a night of magic for children and grownups alike, with thousands of lights and real chestnuts roasting on a real open fire.
It’s the kind of event that makes us grateful to live in this place and thankful that we get to spend a peaceful holiday season with the real people who live here.