For decades, American retail employees called the day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday,” but they did so in the stockrooms and breakrooms of their stores, away from customers. Managers used the term because Thanksgiving weekend sales are what typically drive a store’s yearly profits into the black. Ground-level employees called the day Black Friday because it was so brutal it could kill you.
At some point, Black Friday entered the popular vernacular as the name of an official shopping holiday, and that was when holiday shopping really started to get out of hand; without Black Friday as a popular concept, Target employees don’t have to leave their family’s Thanksgiving dinners early so they can open the store for a bunch of ungrateful yahoos who will happily murder their neighbors to get their hands on a deeply discounted flat-screen TV.
To counter the grabby bottom-feeding of Black Friday, America’s small-business owners pushed the idea of Small Business Saturday, a time for Americans to skip the mall and give their cash to local entrepreneurs instead. Small Business Saturday didn’t seize the national consciousness like the concept of a “doorbuster,” but it’s still been a candle of hope and decency against the garish fluorescent strip lighting of corporate American commerce.
Three years ago, Sherman Alexie put a bookselling spin on Small Business Saturday with Indies First. The idea is simple: Writers work as guest booksellers in their local independent bookstores on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The idea took off nationwide, and now it’s become part of the holiday bookstore tradition. The American Booksellers Association chose Lena Dunham to be the public face of Indies First day, which is an odd choice: With one book to her name and a tendency to publicly make an ass of herself—and I say this as an ardent fan of Dunham’s show Girls and as someone who liked her memoir—Dunham seems like a bad choice as America’s #1 Indie Bookstore Evangelist.
Luckily, Alexie is still holding it down locally. In fact, he’s going bigger and better than ever: He hired a party bus and on Saturday will stock it full of 24 Seattle-area writers. These are big names: poets (Claudia Castro Luna, Jane Wong, Quenton Baker), comics writers and artists (G. Willow Wilson, David Lasky, Sarah Glidden), writers of fiction (Donna Miscolta, Nancy Rawles, Kevin Emerson) and nonfiction (David Schmader, Steven Barker), and some local book journalists (Marilyn Dahl from Shelf Awareness, yours truly.) The bus will take the writers to three Seattle-area bookstores, where they’ll spend about an hour recommending books to customers and autographing copies of their own books. The schedule as it stands right now, barring traffic: Noon, Third Place Books Seward Park; 2 p.m., University Book Store; 4 p.m., Elliott Bay Book Company.
Come on out, meet a favorite writer, support a local business, and get a personalized gift for a loved one. After the darkness of Black Friday, it’s a blast of sunshine into the cold heart of commerce. Indies First, various locations, indiebound.org. Noon–6 p.m. Sat., Nov. 26.
Paul Constant is the co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. Read daily books coverage like this at seattlereviewofbooks.com.