NEW YORK, United States — At the entrance of Bergdorf Goodman, one of the world’s glitziest department stores, the morning after Thanksgiving, a store associate puts a few Saint Laurent handbags on top a glass case. He pauses and looks at the dozen or so people gathered. “Up to 40 percent off,” he announces to the early birds. They gasp and start analysing the red satchels and tan suede totes — then put them back down, and move on.
America’s fanciest shops do Black Friday in a different fashion than their mid- or mass-market counterparts. Lines are short and no doors get busted, but there are still sales to enjoy and deals to find. The finest department stores welcome shoppers with rare markdowns, though they’re still quite modest. It’s hard to find anything treated like a true holiday doorbuster — instead, just 25 percent in one corner, an extra 10 percent off in the next.
Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue is one of the world’s premier shopping streets, featuring both high-end swag and affordable clothing shops. It’s 9am and Bergdorf has just opened its doors. By then, the sidewalks are already bustling with people carrying bags from the more modest end of the retail spectrum — Hollister, Aldo, Uniqlo. Fancy shops don’t open before sunrise. They certainly don’t open on Thanksgiving proper, as many discount-crazed stores have done since 2011. Macy’s welcomed customers at 5pm. Thursday, stayed open until 2am, then re-opened four hours later. J.C. Penney went even further, with a 2pm opening on Thanksgiving Day. That’s early enough to skip the family chatter and get all your shopping done before dinner.
Bergdorf Goodman’s 5th floor is its busiest area on Black Friday, with markdowns on its contemporary brands — labels such as Alice + Olivia, Halston Heritage, and Diane Von Furstenburg. On its main accessories floor, there’s the handful of Saint Laurent items and some small leather goods from Balenciaga. Nearly everything in the store cost hundreds, or thousands, or dollars, so even the sale items go slowly throughout the day.
At the Saks Fifth Avenue famed flagship a few blocks away, people stop on the sidewalk to take photos of the Snow White-themed holiday windows, as “Whistle While You Work” blasts from speakers strapped to ledges on the second floor. In the store, there are many more 40 percent off clothing racks than usual, full of Alexander McQueen denim jackets, Carolina Herrera dresses, and long graphic T-shirts from Givenchy. The only Black Friday hysteria at Saks happened when water started leaking from the ceiling on the 7th floor, sending employees scrambling to drag racks of Hugo Boss clothing away from the cascade.
Barneys New York, a few blocks north, opens at 10am, later than most of its high-end competitors, and touts 40 percent off “select merchandise.” Some sections of the store are outfitted with black-and-white signs that simply say “sale,” which act as magnets for all who pass by. It’s a similar vibe to that of Bergdorf. Shoppers are either paired up — spouses or BFFs — or they come in packs. Packs of trendy twentysomethings roam the men’s store, poking around for the latest street-style from such labels as Off White and Acne Studios.
An Overwhelming Tide
Bloomingdale’s is much livelier, thanks to a six-hour sale to open Black Friday. All kinds of merchandise is flagged with red discount signs. Its sale was popular enough, in fact, to wreak havoc on its credit card processing system. Parent Macy’s Inc. experienced billing issues with both Bloomingdale’s and its namesake department store chain, leaving shoppers frustrated and unable to make their purchases. Some were told to come back later, perhaps with cash, in order to buy the items they wanted. Brown paper bags filled up with items on hold piled up behind cash register counters.
All these stores offer their personalised services on Black Friday. Barneys, for instance, has concierge services to get tickets to concerts or the theater. For those unwilling to spend hours combing through dresses and blouses, personal shoppers are available on most floors. The lower level houses the beauty area, with brow and makeup services, and a hair salon if you want a fresh blowout for the big shopping day.
Quick visits to specialty stores show that it’s business as usual, despite the shopping frenzy elsewhere. Louis Vuitton opened its flagship a bit earlier in the morning, but there are no sales. Chanel and Dior will keep their boutiques open for an extra hour at the end of the day. For Saint Laurent, Burberry, and Fendi, all is normal. Want the real deals? You have to go downmarket. The windows at Coach’s store nearby are plastered with “Up to 50% Off” decals.
A Busy Avenue
Late in the morning, a few hours into the shopping day, 5th Avenue is now fully populated. They’re mostly tourists; New Yorkers are either at work, or they’ve left the city for Thanksgiving. Some get distracted by the black-and-gold facade of Trump Tower, and scuttle across the street to take selfies behind police barricades and in front of NYPD and Secret Service officers carrying rifles.
Back at Bergdorf across the street, most of those Saint Laurent bags remain on the glass case. Shoppers tend to think about their purchases for a while when they’re considering shelling out $2,000 for a handbag. Nearby, a pair of women sidle up to the Loro Piana section, browsing the selection of luxury cashmere and wool. The sales associate perks up.
“Do you want to try it on?” she asks.
“Is this on a discount?” one of the women says, holding a black wool coat in the air.
“No,” the associate responds curtly, then gestures toward all the Loro Piana merchandise behind her. “Nothing here is on discount.”
By Kim Bhasin; editor: Justin Ocean.