Black Friday in a bleak economy no big deal

Media updates the weekend after Thanksgiving are always filled with attempts to judge the strength of the Christmas shopping season by the opening surge of buyers, and this year is no exception. But reports about a robust start to this annual exercise in consumption tend to ring false when they run counter to personal experience -- and that's certainly the case for yours truly.

My daughters had a basketball scrimmage between noon and 3 p.m. on Black Friday, so my wife and I decided to fill that time by giving a boost to the economy, despite our fear that we'd regret not waiting a few days for the crowds to diminish. However, those dreaded throngs never materialized. Over the span, we visited as many as ten retailers in Denver's southwestern suburbs: discounters, department stores, specialty shops. And not once did we encounter crowded aisles, long lines, dangerous parking lots or the sort of brusque behavior associated with spending frenzies. The closest thing to a problem we encountered was discovering that one item on our list was sold out at three places -- but we found it at a fourth. We arrived home well before 3, feeling strangely depressed that the entire task had been so uneventful. After all, good times in America generally translate to a tough time reaching the cash register. The absence of such struggles at the end of 2008 portends a grim beginning to 2009. -- Michael Roberts

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