Shop 'til you drop

November 25, 2011

For over a century, the day after Thanksgiving has been the busiest shopping day of the year. Let's go back and look at Black Friday thirty years ago--November 27, 1981.

The big news in Chicago was that the federal government had given the green light, and the city was set to host a World's Fair in 1992. The other major story was about Harry Caray, the Sox TV broadcaster. He was moving north, and would be doing the Cubs games next summer.

The weather had been warm, so shoppers were turning out in large numbers. Over a million people jammed the State Street Mall, and sizeable crowds were seen on North Michigan Avenue. Ford City reported a record 60,000 shoppers. Woodfield, Oak Brook, and Old Orchard were also having a busy day.

Shopping styles varied. The country was pulling out of a recession, and some retailers noted that customers were buying fewer--but more expensive--Christmas gifts. Other people were just looking for a bargain. That was good news for Goldblatt's, which was shutting down its last fourteen department stores.

Every retailer seemed to have a special sale. Rose Records was featuring Barbra Streisand's "Memories" album and "The Jacksons Live." If you wanted a book, Kroch's & Brentano's offered a coffee-table volume The Royal Wedding of Charles and Diana. Polk Brothers' big item was a 25-inch RCA color TV with remote control, for $598.

Of course, a few shoppers were interested in the latest in electronics. Polk's was also selling a state-of-the-art RCA video cassette recorder for $598. An electric typewriter was available for $274. And at Oak Brook, the local computer store had slapped a $530 discount on the Apple Family System. The new, low price was $2,095.

Toys remained traditional in 1981. Dolls and air rifles, puzzles and action figures were being advertised. A good portion of the kids' merchandise was connected to the "Dukes of Hazzard" TV series.

As the sun started to go down, a happy throng gathered at State and Wacker. Mayor Jane Byrne pushed a button. In front of her the city's 70-foot Christmas tree burst into light, and all down the State Street Mall, 100,000 white lights glistened.

The crowd cheered. It was the Christmas season in Chicago!