Martha’s Vineyard + Black Friday = no pepper spray
When people think about Black Friday, the big shopping day after Thanksgiving Thursday, the relevant images are usually retail carnage of some kind — barbarians at the gates of big-box retailers, fights over discounted merchandise, scuffles in the parking lots, trampled store employees, and (a new one this year) pepper spray being used to keep other people away from stuff that you want to buy. (What to do with all that leftover pepper spray when there aren’t any protesters around to disperse?)
That’s the mainland. In Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the southern coast of Massachusetts, retail works at a more genteel pace. There is no Walmart; there is no Target.
With a winter population of 15,007, compared with summer’s population of 105,624, according to the Martha’s Vineyard Gazette, you would imagine correctly that most of the shops shut down by this time of year. Not anymore. Now they stay open later, and even here among the white-walled Cape Cods, quaint old fishing captain houses and the massive mansions of the moneyed (Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, “You’re So Vain” singer Carly Simon and many more), Black Friday is here. But it’s smaller, and violence in the service of consumer satisfaction is something that people leave behind with their darker impulses “off island.”
This year, the temperature reached nearly 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and there was brilliant sun, so when I walked down there on Friday, I saw about 100 people over an hour or so taking their early afternoon constitutionals along Main Street where many of Edgartown’s shops were open for business and doing big discounts.
I talked to some people, including Rachel Romanowsky, a marketing manager for Jack Wills, a clothing store that specializes in items that “reflect British heritage and style.”
“There are more people out shopping, definitely,” she said, comparing it with last year, when more people — even among the wealthy — were fretting about their financial futures as the effects of the financial crisis and recession of the past few years played out. “Last year we hit our target, but it was nothing overwhelming. This year, we exceeded our targets early.”
She said the company was expecting $5,000 in sales at the Edgartown store on Friday, but at 2pm said that the store might exceed its target by 15 percent. She also said that the store was crowded at times on Friday. I asked what “crowded” meant. “About 10 people,” she said.
Pat Cooney, who with her husband John, comes from Ridgefield, Connecticut and has a house on the Vineyard, said that discounts have reached 50 percent if not more, including at the Rainy Day gift store.
“I’ve seen discounts of 30, 40, 50 percent. That’s not bad for something you don’t really need,” she said. “But I think everybody’s really watching what they’re spending. You say, ‘do I really need that ornament of a lighthouse?’”
Susan Catling of Edgartown Books was offering a discount of 20 percent. There were a few more people than usual in the store, but no crowds. I remarked that Edgartown is not quite the kind of place where you could imagine the Black Friday chaos of the mainland. Catling described the island’s shopping culture thusly:
“No one’s been pepper sprayed.”
(Photos: Robert MacMillan)