Why it is called “Black Friday”

The Friday after Thanksgiving has become known in the last few decades as one of the busiest of the year for retailers, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season. One of the names used for this day is Black Friday, which some say comes from the fact that it is the biggest shopping day of the year, putting stores firmly in the black. This is false, as the days closer to Christmas generate more in sales. For the true origins of the term, we have to dig back a few decades.

Laurence H. Black was one of the best floor men in town, working in the men’s department of the old Osberger’s Department Store for over thirty years. He had been with the store since its humble beginnings as a menswear store on Richmond Avenue in the late 1920s. Except for a very brief stint in the service during World War II, he remained with the store as it grew, eventually settling into its later eight-floor retail palace on North Geary Street. Black was a fixture in the store, presiding over the suits, shirts, ties and millinery in his ever-present black suit (“That’s how they remember me. Black suit, Mr. Black, see?”) with a red carnation in the lapel. In a very cutthroat industry, his was one of those rare cases in which he was respected by everyone in the city’s retail trade, regardless of store affiliation. His reputation was even cemented throughout the region, as Osberger’s expanded in the 1950s and Mr. Black would often be called upon to train sellers at the various stores.

But it was the downtown store he loved the most. He was typically one of the first there in the morning (just behind Wharton Osberger) and one of the last to leave, which is exactly as it was on November 27, 1964. Toward the end of his twelve-hour shift, as the massive brass clock overlooking the restaurant in the store’s Grande Center Court read 7:48 pm, Laurence H. Black collapsed, felled by a heart attack. Old man Osberger closed the store the next day and clerks at the city’s other retail palaces wore black in tribute.

The following year, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, all of the employees wore black suits and dresses, highlighted by a single red carnation, with a moment of silence at 7:48 pm, a tradition that carried on year after year and was picked up by many other stores in the city. But, through many consolidations and sales and employee turnover and whatnot, the reason for the tribute and the tradition itself has been lost, save for a few old-timers who still remember. The small Osberger chain was dissolved in the early 1990s and the old parent company is now the owner of a chain of movie theaters in Australia. If you trace back through approximately fifteen mergers and acquisitions you’ll find that the old Osberger stores themselves are all now Macy’s. The central Osberger’s store on North Geary was converted to office space in 2001, after sitting vacant for a number of years. They’ve kept the central court and clock, however.
- RJ White

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47 Responses to Why it is called “Black Friday”

  1. November 21, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    This is really interesting and I think more stores should honor this day and not just because of the sales. It would also be nice if they said something about it on the news or in the newspapers.

  2. November 22, 2007 at 4:58 pm

    This story requires the willing suspension of disbelief. I’ve been in corporate retail for twenty years and never heard of this. Nice try.

  3. November 23, 2007 at 12:02 pm

    Although the bubble doesn’t even move a SPECK on the “Truth-O-Meter”, you gotta give someone credit for coming up with a doozy of a great story. I think this is the story we should circulate. Its a helluva lots more interesting than the real meaning. LOL Keep up the good work, CityDesk!

  4. November 24, 2007 at 4:47 am

    Actually this story is true. In fact, it was later revealed that if Osberger gave Mr. Black better health benefits, he would have known about his heart condition in advanced and not dropped dead on the sales floor.

  5. Osberger Margarete
    May 5, 2008 at 11:51 pm

    Hi,
    With a google-search “Osberger Australia” I found this web site. Can anyone help me ? I am looking for relatives in Australia. Do you know a “Osberger” with roots in Austria, with a father or grand-father named Hans Osberger. If so, please mail me his/her e-mail address. Thanks in advance !
    Margarete Osberger

  6. Synnove Underwood
    November 25, 2008 at 6:04 pm

    11-25-08
    Thank you for this fantastic information. I had no idea that Black Friday was such a historic event. When we read that the Osberger chain is now Macys, we all felt goosebumps. How neat that you have kept archives like this.

    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, Synnove

  7. November 25, 2008 at 7:33 pm

    The term “Black Friday” originated in Philadelphia in reference to the heavy traffic on that day. More recently, merchants and the media have used it instead to refer to the beginning of the period in which retailers are in the black (i.e., turning a profit).

    By the early 1980s, an alternative theory began to be circulated: that retailers traditionally operated at a financial loss for most of the year (January through November) and made their profit during the holiday season, beginning on the day after Thanksgiving. When this would be recorded in the financial records, once-common accounting practices would use red ink to show negative amounts and black ink to show positive amounts. Black Friday, under this theory, is the beginning of the period where retailers would no longer have losses (the red) and instead take in the year’s profits (the black).

  8. November 26, 2008 at 8:32 am

    It is a sais commentary to read this this report , I can recall wheb i was growing up and started to buy my own clothes in the Pittsburgh_ McKeesport area
    UIt was always a pleasure to go into any clothing store and the personnel there always treated you as a great friend and customer and you did develop an alliigance with the store and the people who whorked there for most of theis lives . I also worked in a store similiar to what is written and saw how people did believe in your product and was always so glaad to come in and shop. As I went and finished colleg, I always returned to these stores and bought my suts and ties and shirts. many people still were working there and they always were so happy to see me return and in reality became great friends and sopping at one of the stores seemed to be a rite of passage as many of the seasoned personnel were happy to see you advance in your career and dressed you appropriately. Camel hair topcoats, chasemere sweaters Hataway shirts ,soscks ,that lasted and never neede darning and of course when iI did move to New York I di find the same when I would go to the Countess Mara Place in Highland , New York .All the clothes there were of high quality and the people were also the greatest.

  9. November 26, 2008 at 8:34 am

    plz forgive the errors

  10. Laura
    November 26, 2008 at 10:21 am

    This is total nonsense. If anyone believes this story then Santa may just bring you some swampland in Florida for Christmas. Sounds to me like some retailer (Macy’s) made this up to draw publicity for the store. Don’t waste your ink on such nonsense in the future. I certainly won’t waste my eyes reading the like.

  11. opeyemi olatunji
    November 26, 2008 at 10:53 am

    I think is an eye openner story and it is very good of you to come out with such story,that will help people to know the meaning of the day.

  12. November 28, 2008 at 10:41 am

    LOL! great read!

  13. none of your biz
    December 2, 2008 at 9:53 am

    you ppl are stupid

  14. YaOkay
    December 5, 2008 at 2:27 am

    Rubbish. Entertaining, but still rubbish.

  15. Bronwyn
    December 5, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    Black Friday, September 24 1869, also known as the Fisk-Gould Scandal. (also found) The earliest uses of “Black Friday” come from or reference Philadelphia and refer to the heavy traffic on that day, an implicit comparison to the extremely stressful and chaotic experience of Black Tuesday . (also found) Hollywood Black Friday (5 October 1945), a riot at the Warner Bros. studios. Point being, the story is cute whether it is true or not, but Black Friday could potentially have several different meanings depending on who and what year you are talking about.

  16. December 30, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    wow, very interesting, love it, understandable, many intricate details. Overall AWESOME!
    Thanks for reading this!
    The End!

  17. March 31, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    i like it:)

  18. March 31, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    ♥ ♥ ♥

  19. November 6, 2009 at 1:10 am

    What an endearing and quaint story. It could be plausible. Having also read others posted commentaries afterwards, there are some other good explainations.
    Is it possible any of these are the orgin… yes but probably is a different story.

    There is another possibility to all these. It is much darker and dire one. If you are familiar with term Seasonal Affective Disorder, then youll have another perspective from which understand.

    Black Friday is the start of a period on up until the week after New Year’s Day when Suicide Rates dramatically increase. It’s akin to a starter’s gun, when plans and attempts are made and are also unfortunately most likely to succeed.

    Black Friday certainly has an entirely different meaning to those who work suicide hotlines.

  20. November 9, 2009 at 12:00 am

    Interesting. Regardless of the name, I enjoy the sales!

  21. David "Duckman" Thompson
    November 11, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    Isn’t it funny that people can put any story to a term or event they want? It doesn’t matter whether or not it is true (and I don’t believe it is), Black Friday sales are intended to help build profit. I’ve been in retail for over 24 years and few retailers would be in business if there stores only made a profit for the last few weeks in a year, especially with the significant discounts offered. Further, people who stand in lines seeking those discounts usually intend to only buy the featured item and little, if any, other products. The featured items are sold usually at a loss, so it strictly the traffic builing that the stores benefit from. And today, with the economy as it is, “Black Fridays” are turning up earlier in the season and multiple times.

  22. Johnpaul
    November 26, 2009 at 1:45 am

    All wrong. Very obvious, really. The Friday after Thanksgiving is the first and only day of the year when stores open their doors for shopping in the dark. Hence, “Black Friday.”

  23. Mogilb
    November 26, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    Who really cares which reason is true; the day retail makes lots of money or the demise of a certain Mr. Black. When someone asks what is the meaning of “black Friday”, one can simply state that BOTH stories are in circulation; and who cares which is correct!

  24. Trucker
    November 27, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    People just can’t take time in their life to believe in the “possibility” that someone actually cared about someone else enough to have a day of remembrance for them.
    True or not, this is a good story.

  25. Stacey J.
    November 28, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Thank you for putting light on my previous ignorance.

    Also, I think it’s pretty funny that the author is named RJ White. :D

  26. Anna K.
    December 5, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    Entertaining, but rather unsubstantiated.

    It begs the question, why do we refer to it as Black Friday if it’s a tribute to a man who passed on the 27th? It doesn’t take much to realize that the 27th will not always occur on Friday, as it did not, for example, last year (2008). Why then would people pay tribute to a man on a day other than that of his passing?

    I have read other sources which indicate that Black Friday came to refer to the day after Thanksgiving when the Philadelphia Police Dept applied the already established term to represent the hoards of traffic and overcrowded sidewalks marking the beginning of the holiday shopping season.

    More recently the emphasis appears to have shifted to the more positive explanation rooted in early accounting: red indicates loss, whereas black denotes profit.

    Don’t trust everything you read. Especially unsubstantiated online sources. I am still seeking evidence of the proferred explanations.

  27. Veronica Craig-McFeely (nee Osberger)
    May 2, 2010 at 4:02 am

    Hi Margarete,
    Just happened to Google ‘Osberger’ and found your message – my father is Hans Osberger from Strass (Osterreich).

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Veronica

  28. November 25, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    I stil dont get it y it is called black friday

  29. November 26, 2010 at 11:35 pm

    I beg to differ from all the comments here but one. In Biblical times an innocent Jew was hung on a Cross and Crucified. His name is Jesus Christ of Nazareth, He is the Son of God, our Heavenly Father. After three days Jesus rose from the dead, and ascended to Heaven. He died a horrible death to atone for your sins and my sins. All you have to do is accept Him as your Savior, Repent and turn from your evil ways and you can join me over on the other side in Heaven after we die. – - – wait, i may be getting off subject here – - -They say it happened on a Friday. And ‘as they say, the rest is history’

  30. kristianna
    November 27, 2010 at 12:49 am

    Being that i had been in retail for about 15 years i also thought it had to do with profit. I also did some more digging and found this story great for there meaning of what happened. So you see this story is real for them and Macy’s. Also it is true that black Friday was also coined for the traffic accidents and cluttering of sidewalks. A third reason is when the day after Thanksgiving hit all the check books came out and people would write out those checks often with a black pen. Know matter what the authentic story has originated from it is still interesting to hear all regardless. It is nice to find stories that go back from years ago. Happy Holidays

  31. Justin
    November 27, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    What city is being referred to in this article? I can also find no references to a Osberger’s Department Store beyond this article.

  32. bryan
    November 25, 2011 at 9:25 am

    this is a fictional site meaning not true

  33. Green Monday
    November 26, 2011 at 11:45 am

    what a load of motherfucking bullshit, the world is full of stupid fucking idiot people

  34. Joe Rod
    November 27, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    What a wonderful fake story. Black Friday has to do with retail.

  35. November 29, 2011 at 11:03 am

    fake

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