They call it “Black Friday.”

But they mean it in a very good way.

“Black Friday — that’s when most retailers came out of the red and went into the black,” said Rusty Rausch, merchandise manager at The Navy Exchange at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan.

For many years, the day after Thanksgiving, when many people took the day off work, was known as the year’s biggest day for retailers.

In the United States, that’s no longer the case. Nowadays, it’s usually a Saturday in December before Christmas.

But on many local military bases, the old tradition remains.

“In the Pacific, that day is still the largest,” said Ken Limtiaco, acting general manager at Yokota Air Base exchange. Last year, he said, almost 300 people stood waiting outside for the exchange to open.

This year, exchange managers are going all out to bring in the business on Friday, through the rest of the weekend and on into December with extra hours, TV giveaways, electronics sales and Santa Claus in the house. And apparently going on the theory that moonlight madness is as possible in the early morning as it is late at night, exchanges are generally opening two hours earlier than normal. For the Navy exchanges, such as the ones at Atsugi Naval Air Facility and Yokosuka — that means 6 a.m.

“We were going to open at 8 a.m. but Nexcom overrode us and said 6 a.m. We said, ‘Yes, sir,’” said Tony Kelley, Atsugi exchange general manager.

Why so early?

“It’s people trying to beat each other” in sales, Kelley said. “It’s the retail world. Frankly, we’re going after the business harder this year.”

In the United States, retailers have said they also hope to increase sales receipts over last year’s disappointing performance. The National Retail Federation is predicting almost a 6 percent increase, according to news reports. But sometimes those predictions are wishful thinking.

“We’re looking to do about $350,000” in receipts, Limtiaco said. “OK, we’re hoping.”

That would be $50,000 more than Black Friday 2002, he said. “One way he hoped to do that was with some lower-priced electronics, like a digital camera for $109, and by stocking more of the things that ‘blow out’ of the store. Like last year, our inexpensive handbags ... when we advertise at 50 percent off, they blow out. And I didn’t have enough. So anything like that, this year I need to bring in more.”

Exchanges have a more finite amount of merchandise than stores in the States. That, coupled with the necessity of mailing gifts to the States, is among reasons exchange managers say they think the day after Thanksgiving still is such a big shopping day overseas.

“It’s the biggest day for us, at least it was last year,” Rauch said. “Except for a day when we had two carriers in at the same time.”

Rausch wasn’t sure how much in sales receipts that was, but she said the exchange is hoping to meet or exceed last year’s total with sales she hopes are particularly attractive to Christmas shoppers, such as 40 percent off gold jewelry, 20 percent off handbags and watches and a DVD player for $70.

“I think that may get the folks out of bed,” she said.

But on Black Friday at Yokosuka, unlike at Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station, Atsugi and some others, there may be no Santa. “We are having the hardest time trying to hire a Santa,” Rausch said.

Atsugi’s Kelley said Friday will be the start of a good retail time at the exchange for weeks. There’ll be breakfasts with Santa, kids-only shopping and, for the later risers, late-night events. Total sales in December, he said, always are more than in November, Black Friday or no Black Friday. “But you want to get an early start,” he said. “That gets them in the Christmas mood.”

author picture
Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now