I have an unhealthy relationship with Black Friday


Jakob Eiseman, Editor-in-Chief

Header Image: CNBC

I’ve never loved and hated something so equally in my life as Black Friday. I am so internally conflicted about my feelings that existential dread already set in during the first week of November. Black Friday is magical, it is unethical; it’s a great value, but horrible for the environment; it’s a way to plan financially, but also extremely predatory. 

I should start off by saying that I have gone out Black Friday shopping in some capacity every year since I was 13 years old, with the exception of 2020, as I was not risking my life for a $10 copy of “Speed” on Blu-Ray… although maybe it would have been worth it…  I digress. I was raised as a deal hunter — I clip coupons, I follow Amazon wishlists, I have Twitter notifications turned on and get dozens of messages a day letting me know when anything from a Bowflex, to a Nintendo Switch OLED, to a subscribe-and-save pack of Double Stuf Oreos goes on sale. Naturally, this means Black Friday was always a big deal for me.

Around three or four years ago, though, I realized that I was spending money for the sake of spending money, rather than for the sake of getting products I actually needed or wanted. Sure, I’ve used that mood lamp shaped like a gemstone a few times, but did I really need to buy it just because it was at a Black Friday sale? I started to get buyers remorse even on good purchases like a mechanical keyboard for $100 off or Senheiser headphones that I use every day that I got for 50 percent off. For the last two years, I saw REI’s #OptOutside campaign trending on Twitter, and actually felt pretty inspired to spend some time outside with friends and family, but that didn’t stop me from checking my phone to see what I wanted to buy online.

Beyond my personal conflict with spending too much money, though, I also started to realize how draining Black Friday is for retail workers after working two myself in a retail position. Stores stay open to please mobs of deal hunters like myself, and workers miss out on time with their family around the Thanksgiving holiday. I always found consonance knowing that it was a choice they made, but in some cases it really isn’t a matter of choice. Beyond this, companies have begun opening their doors Thursday night, even pushing into Thursday morning in some cases, which plants that seed in people’s head that they are missing out on savings by spending time with their family. It feels wrong.

Now, the whole structure has fallen under its own weight, with some companies starting their deals as early as this week, and some lasting until after the holiday season itself. What’s worse is that as Black Friday participation has gone down, organizations are encouraged to compete using increasingly shady and predatory methods in order to hold on to what was once the biggest retail shopping day of the year. Most doorbuster deals are the same ones offered year round, especially on big ticket items like TVs, game consoles and appliances. They are literally the same deals that are offered every few months, but they are presented as once-a-year opportunities that can’t be passed up. Even more egregious than that, many products are driven up in price prior to Black Friday and then are put on discount to equal the actual MSRP, but are presented as a good deal. 
I don’t know. I’m sure I will still fall into some purchases this year, but I am going to try to stay out of the stores. I want to avoid COVID firstly, but it’s also a small way that I can protest the unethical practices big stores have been taking. I wasn’t writing this piece to corral the Collegian community into hating stores and boycotting Black Friday, but hopefully to find some others who are in a similar situation as me. Feel free to reply in the comments or reach out to me at my email with your thoughts on Black Friday and what we might be able to do as a society to move past it or improve it.

Ties and dressing for the inner you


James LeVan, Staff

I do not regard myself as a particularly fashionable person. I do not read GQ or follow any specific fashion blogs on the Internet. Despite that, I do like to put in the effort in the morning to dress nicely. So much so that I will get up at 5 a.m. so that I can put some minimal effort in. I like to wear a tie, a nice pair of pants and a button-down shirt. Sometimes I wear a belt, other times I put on suspenders (which I prefer to be honest). It really depends on my mood in the morning. Before I moved to Philly, I used to put on a tie and would go to my local Barnes and Noble and sit in the café reading political magazines and books I purchased. My parents always wondered why I got dressed to sit in a bookstore and my reasoning was simple: after a year of only wearing work clothes or pajamas, I wanted to look nice and dress like a human being.

When I was a young man, I did not have a lot of confidence in myself or my ability to do anything. I was angry, uninterested, unmotivated, and all I wanted to do was get through the school days and go home and hide in my room. My wardrobe was mostly blue jeans and dark shirts with a camo hoodie. Things were not particularly better as I grew older. In my first two years of community college, I would work as a dishwasher and was forced to wear these ugly wool shirts and blue jeans. They were uncomfortable to wear and they developed a strange smell. I hated that job for several reasons. The one that comes to mind now is that every time I would come home from my shift, it was because I would look at myself in the mirror and feel exhausted and disgusted. Insecurity is a strong feeling and not one a person can overcome easily, and my work did not help. The restaurant I worked at was toxic and not exactly a healthy work environment (in every sense of the word).

The one advantage about it was that it was located right across from my bank and Marshalls. One day after my check was cashed, I decided to march over there and start looking through the clothing racks. Going to Marshalls to try and make myself presentable was a new experience. Determining what to wear and purchase was like trying to figure out a new language with minimal experience in speaking it. I am a proud product of public schools; uniforms were never required. My family were not church-goers and the churches we did attend were not big on fancy dress. My experience in fashion was not minimal, it was nonexistent, and I was starting from nothing. So, I did what any 20-year-old would do in this situation, I looked up pictures of James Bond and worked from there. I bought myself a solid white shirt and a red tie and when I got home and tried them on a transformation had occurred. For the first time, I felt like a man and was confident and proud of myself. It was though I was looking at someone I could aspire to, an ideal version of myself made real that had existed in my head but was now present in the physical world. I walked around my house that day playing “Stayin Alive” by the Bee Gees and “You Know my Name” by Chris Cornell. The only thing I did not do was buy dress shoes, relying instead on a nice pair of sneakers since I walked and took public transportation everywhere. Even now, I struggle with dress shoes and prefer to pull a Gary Johnson.

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Former 2016 Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson (center) prefers to wear sneakers with his suits.

Over time, I began to piece together a wardrobe that I can customize depending on the day of the week. The tie became a banner representing my mood and frame of mind for the day. The pants and shirt are a stylish way to present myself and occasionally turn heads. Fashion is about confidence, finding the style of dress that suits you and appeals to your confidence. For me, it was not just that I was dressing nicely, I was dressing towards an idea, a version of myself that I could be proud of and aspire to. That is what fashion is more about me — attempting to bring out the inner version of you that you are most proud of and comfortable in.

Do I think everyone on campus (undergraduate, graduate, staff, faculty, etc.) should dress like me? Should we have a dress code? Hell no — I dress the way I want to because it is how I want to and it appeals to my personal aesthetic. This is my style, and I do not want to force others to dress my way and have them risk losing their own sense of self-confidence no more than I would want someone else to try and tell me how to dress and destroy my own sense of self-esteem.

A year in retail


James LeVan, Staff

Five years ago, a week before “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” arrived in theaters, I had taken a job in a local grocery store pushing carts in the evening. It was during the holiday season, a time when grocery stores and other retail businesses hired anyone with a pulse. Pushing carts wasn’t a bad gig overall. When the weather was warm and they were constructing the overpass near my work, I loved watching the sunset in the parking lot and listening to the banging of metal in the night air. The work was simple and pleasant. Since then, I have been a cashier, janitor, seafood rep (that lasted a week) and now a floater (a fancier term for stock boy). Being a floater has never been an easy job. It is not just stocking cans of corn on the shelf with a bunch of teenagers and college students. Retirees, teenagers, other college students, people looking for a second chance, parents even college graduates (a coworker who worked overnight stocking shelves had a degree in Business from Temple) work in retail. It has become a major source of employment for the educated and the uneducated, the skilled and the unskilled alike. Regardless of race or creed, what unites us is our frustration for our work and since the pandemic that frustration has only exasperated.

When the pandemic first hit a year ago, our shelves were quickly depleted the weekend Pennsylvania began to shut down. Our freezers became barren, most if not all of our meats were sold, and, of course, we ran out of toilet paper. By the end of the day Saturday of the first weekend of the pandemic, all we really had were Little Debbie products and some sparkling cider left over from Christmas 2019 (that stuff sells poorly, even in the middle of a pandemic). It is hard to believe it has been a year since COVID-19 first hit — those months of March to maybe June of 2020 feel both distant and recent to me. I tried keeping a log back in April, but many of my notes were mundane. I did not record all that happened at work and when I was not working, I was at home puttering around my house. The supply chain did not collapse, but it was under pressure that had not been seen before in the recent history of the United States. 

Courtesy of James LeVan

Pictured above is a frozen food aisle in early April 2020.

It was hard telling people who were desperate for toilet paper that we did not have any. I tried directing them to the nearest small corner store or family-owned chain (in the beginning they maintained a better supply than we did). When people would ask me when we would get more stuff in, I would shrug my shoulders and tell them I did not want to lie to them. Some people would accuse us of hoarding supplies and truth be told, we were not. Some coworkers bought a pack of toilet paper together and divided the rolls amongst themselves. For me, my parents had to drive out to the rural parts of PA to find ground beef and toilet paper. We had plenty of Lysol spray and wipes left over from when I had the flu a month earlier (an odd stroke of luck when I think about it). At the beginning of the pandemic, a coworker gave me a can of Lysol and I felt bad taking it, so I took it back to the shelf and explained that we had plenty of it at home, and it felt like I was hoarding. A woman quickly came and picked it up from me and said thank you.

In normal times, delivery trucks come in the early evening, and the overnight crew comes in around 8 p.m. to break it down. However, during the summer, trucks became infrequent. I remember one time I had to come in early (5 a.m.) to help overnight unload a truck that had gotten there an hour earlier. Sometimes we would not get a truck for a day or so and then multiple loads in one day. It really depended on the luck of the draw that day. One surprising phenomenon was that at one point, just so we had stuff, we got stacks of toilet paper and flour that were originally meant for hotels. But since no one was travelling, it made more sense for us to stock shelves with it. Things are semi-stable now, though we still end up running short on supplies depending on what they are.

On social media and television, we were praised for continuing to come into work. That we were in a way heroes for making sure communities had food and supplies. The media certainly thought we were awesome, and we had some customers thank us for what we were doing. However, I do not think people realize just how bad it got on some days. The fear that your coworker sitting across from you had COVID in the breakroom, to customers who would lose control and act like a child having a tantrum in a toy store. One moment that stands out in my mind was the time me and my manager had to go over to our beer garden because an older white man was screaming at a co-worker and an African American customer. When we asked what was wrong, the old man started screaming at our manager claiming that a Black man was following him around the store (he was not, we checked the cameras). He spent 20 minutes screaming at us, telling us about how his wife left him in the store alone, that he thought we were discriminating against him because he was white and not questioning the Black man, he was accusing of following him, that he had PTSD and that if he did not yell, he would get violent. I honestly thought I was going to have to fight this guy who was twice my size at that moment and that I was going to end up on the news. The guy tired himself out and then proceeded to leave and went about our business.

We who work at stores like Acme, Giant, Walmart and Target have been through Hell this last year. We have gone home crying, scared and exhausted. I have broken down in tears personally three times this past year. Many of us did not choose to continue working during this pandemic because we were brave or had a sense of duty. We did it because we had bills to pay and mouths to feed. Our work was not a breeze to begin with and the pandemic only exacerbated our problems. Grocery stores face issues of sexual harassment, disrespect and abuse from the communities we feed. The latter is still being felt now as we struggle to get vaccines and the latest attempt for a minimum wage increase died with Senator Sinema’s obnoxious thumbs down. It is important to remember that behind that mask, the cashier that sounds like a robot reciting the “thank you for shopping with us,” the women in health and beauty care and the guys stocking the shelves are all human and we are so tired.