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The Birth of the Retail Door-Buster Bargain

Updated on December 1, 2014
Inside America's first department store 1877
Inside America's first department store 1877
Outside of the department store
Outside of the department store
The 1911 new department store
The 1911 new department store

How things begin is always an interesting topic, especially in culture. Back in the 1960's, kids were using dramatic words their parents were confused about or thought were bad (as in bad, not good!). For instance, the word "bitchin" began in California in the 60's during the surfer craze. When you first encountered it, most thought it was related to the derogatory word "bitch" for a female dog, depending on the age. But, to teens then, it meant "so cool". Teens used other words for the same meaning, like, "boss", "rad", far-out. Today, the word "sic" or "ratchet" mean exactly the same "so cool" meaning.

The Black Friday event actually was first used by police in Philadelphia, PA. in the early 1960's. It was used by police to describe the clogged streets around shops and shopping centers and traffic jams during holiday sales. Sometime in the 1980's or early 90's, retailers either knowingly or not so, used the term for their own marketing needs and how it would help a store go into the "black" (make a profit) for the year. The term was used internally for the most part and not part of the advertisement.

However, the first ever "door-buster" retail ad first appeared on August 28, 1917, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The Killian's department store ran an ad stating that on a certain day, an eight o'clock door-buster with great savings, would occur at "tiny fractions of their normal prices". In the 1920's, Iowa was home to the door-buster deals that today are called Black Friday. However, history shows the first real door-buster, one where buyers actually waited for the store to open and then rush in to buy greatly discounted items, happened in the 1890's! The term door-buster was first used in a remark about retail mayhem. It was in the Wanamaker's department store in Philadelphia (how ironic!). The store had calico material for women's clothes for sale at, what was then, dirt cheap, prices- only 1 cent a yard! Calico dresses were the fashion then and when advertising appeared, the store suffered that Black Friday mayhem when the doors opened. So much so, that the store's windows were broken. The store's manager made a comment of "That bargain certainly was a door-buster".

That is how Black Friday and Door-buster bargains came into the American retail business. Today, most shoppers storm for big ticket items such as LCD TV's, stereo's, etc.


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