Opinion: The Jewish Black Friday


shoppingBy Ben Schwartz, Matzav.com

Black Friday, in American culture, is the great shopping holiday, the morning after the Thanksgiving holiday. Black Friday starts the holiday shopping season, and is so named because it begins the season that gets stores out of the red and into the black, hoping for a profitable year. Chain retailers create an event-like atmosphere, opening in the wee hours of the morning, and advertising drastic markdowns to pull customers in. Customers also make a holiday out of it, some bringing tents and camping out in parking lots until the doors open.

While Black Friday is associated mainly with nationwide chains and expensive electronics, this year it is a pivotal moment for another kind of retail store, one that is closer to home for the frum community: Your local Judaica store.

Retail business is feast or famine. Rarely can a store of any kind survive on the trickle of day to day customers. Stores rely on the frantic rush of the busy seasons, when customers pour in looking to spend money on what they need, and hopefully a few extras. But the busy season is limited; when you have three weeks to get back into the black, a few days of bad weather can keep customers home and a store in the red.

There are three big seasons for Judaica stores, all are before Yomim Tovim. The three times are the Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur/Succos rush, the Chanukah rush, and the Pesach rush. Each has its own little quirks. Beyond esrogim and Seder plates, stores sell many more novels before Pesach and Succos, which have long Yom Tov afternoons, than they do before Chanukah; not surprisingly, they sell more gift items during the Chanukah season.

This year, as always, Judaica companies are targeting the Chanukah season for a heavy marketing push.

The stores, meanwhile, scramble to receive and display the new inventory together with the menorahs and oil, while at the same time servicing crowds of customers. In this season, a busy day is strenuous and draining, a quiet day is frightening. While the ads and catalogs bring customers into the stores, it can be hard for stores to meet the advertised specials after paying for shipping, and putting together their own seasonal ads.

Like national retailers do on Black Friday, Judaica stores advertise loss leaders to get customers inside. Some stores feel pressure to match any advertised special, lest they be perceived as overpriced. Others don’t worry.

“I’m not overpriced,” one Flatbush manager says. “I always give twenty percent off the list price. If there’s a store that wants to pull people in, that’s fine, but if a customer is in my store, I’m already doing better than that, because he’s already here.”

This year, as Black Friday arrives tomorrow, many stores are already fully switched from the pre-Succos or early winter quiet season mode to the fifteen-kinds-of-disposable-menorah, fifty-new-book mode.

There’s enough new and noteworthy releases and developments at your local Judaica store to keep customers coming and to help gauge, like Black Friday, whether the recession is over. Hopefully, the weather will hold up, the stores will be bustling, and you will find just what you and your family need. But if not, hey, Pesach is sooner than you think.

{Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. As many may not be aware, black refers to the black in accounting, as opposed to being in the red; i.e. in debt. may it be hoped that we all ensure we do not overspend and place an added burden on our hardworking spouses. at the same time, let it further be hoped that our vendors, acheinu b’nei yisroel, enjoy the bounty and prosper in these difficult economic times. RS OF BP

  2. The trouble is that the stores want to make money and they are inundated with stuff most of us can do without. Years ago, and I am from the old school, you bought what you need. Today, you go out of your mind making selections and there are items for every breath you take driving the consumer crazy if they don’t exit the store as soon as they buy what THEY NEED!!!!
    We develop an appetite for things that we don’t need just by looking at the stuff that’s around and instead of going home with what you came for,you are loaded with bags of things you had not anticipated buying. I am speaking for myself, as well….It’s a Machle Medina, as they say. We all overspend….and the manufacturers are well aware of this and take advantage of bringing in newer and newer products all the time.
    Think about the food items in a supermarket and your head spins….mine does…. I know everyone out there needs parnassah and wants to make money….but,personally….I think it got way out of line….We are raising a generation of spoiled children…..I see it every day….
    Sorry….I know the young ones may comment on this….but….it’s the truth….and the truth sometimes hurts.

  3. I will patronize my local Judaica store (a) when I actually need something from there, and (b) when I can afford it.

    Not before – and certainly not at the behest of a writer I have never heard of who clearly has a financial interest in the matter.

  4. An afterthought to my earlier contribution

    The (anonymous) Flatbush Judaica store manager has declared that he “always give[s] twenty percent off the list price”.

    He is running a “Judaica” store; why can’t he display just a little modicum of honesty and quote the r e a l price?

    We are not all foolish and most of us can see through that sly and dishonest ploy for what it is.

  5. Gosh! It seems like when one is “In my fifties”, he will have an argument with a “Ben Torah”! I must agree with “In my fifties” on that today we will buy what we need. After we fill up on our (for example) wardrobe, we will say to ourselves, I really don’t need this, but hey! it’s 50% off, so why not? whether or not its price was cut down, bottom line, we still don’t need it!
    And to those who think this article is a waste of space, that is because this subtitle falls under OPINION. just because you mat not agree with it, it doesn’t mean that it is a total waste of space. I happen to think it is important, interesting, sharp, TRUE, and a real eye-opener.