Retailers Cross Their Fingers: A Special Garment District Holiday Report



Black Friday is known as a happy day for American retailers, by tradition the day when hordes of holiday shoppers nudge stores into profitability, or into the black. It’s a moment when storeowners cross their fingers and hope for crowds.

But it was the dread of crowds that  inspired the term, which originated four decades ago in Philadelphia. Back then, cops and bus drivers would grumble about the throngs on the “Black Friday” after Thanksgiving, when the mob drawn by shopping and the annual Army-Navy football game flooded downtown Philadelphia. Over the years, retailers in the rest of the country gradually adopted it instead to describe a mammoth day of sales.

This year may be an especially tough one for retailers. The economy remains weak — GDP, the broadest measure of the U.S. economy, grew by a mediocre 2.5 percent annualized in the third quarter — and shoppers seem reluctant to spend. In an October poll conducted by Accenture, a consulting firm, 72 percent of those surveyed expected their holiday spending to be “careful” or “controlled,” while 88 percent said they would spend the same amount — or less — as last year. Shoppers on the street tend to feel the same way. One New Yorker, Colleen Barry, said she was knitting scarves rather than buying gifts this year. “It’s useful,” she says, “and it’s fun to play with yarn.”

But shoppers will still turn out, and retailers in Midtown are preparing. Macy’s, along with several other retailers, is opening for the first time at midnight this year, and the Cellar Bar & Grill at the flagship store on 34th Street is readying for the usual 30 to 40 percent boost in traffic the day brings. And the surge in foot traffic extends beyond the department stores. The manager of the pretzel shop in Penn Station says he stocks up on pretzel dough and lemonade before the big day in anticipation of a third more customers than usual.

With this in mind, The Midtown Gazette presents a special report on the Garment District for Black Friday this year — and we’ve taken an expansive view of what that includes. Our reporters have talked to the immigrant workers who design patterns in the Garment District’s traditional heart along Seventh Avenue, but we’ve also covered the department stores that sell the clothes, and the coffee shops and lunch joints whose business gets a boost from hungry shoppers.

What’s emerged is a neighborhood in a state of flux. Holiday shoppers still hit Macy’s and Lord & Taylor, but they also stock up on cashmere sweaters at UNIQLO, the futuristic Japanese retailer whose flagship store opened last month on Fifth Avenue. One older Venezuelan designer, facing a dearth of orders, sometimes borrows from her daughter to keep her business afloat. Some things, however, remain constant. William Wai has worked in the Garment District for 40 years, but he still uses the same black scissors his father gave him when he left China at 21.“I never use other scissors,” Wai said. “Nothing is as sharp as my father’s scissors.”