Shop ‘Til You Drop (11-27-1981)

For over a century, the Friday after Thanksgiving has been the busiest shopping day of the year.  Let’s go back and look at Black Friday on November 27, 1981.

The big news in town was that the federal government had given the green light, and Chicago was set to host a World’s Fair in 1992.  The other major story was about Harry Caray, the White Sox TV broadcaster.  He was moving north, and would be doing the Cubs games next summer.

Michigan Ave at Christmas

The weather in Chicago had been warm, so shoppers were turning out in large numbers.  Over a million people jammed the State Street Mall, and sizeable crowds were seen on North Michigan Avenue.  Ford City reported a record 60,000 shoppers.  Woodfield, Oak Brook, and Old Orchard were also having a busy day.

Shopping styles varied.  The country was pulling out of a recession, and some retailers noted that customers were buying fewer–but more expensive–Christmas gifts.  Other people were just looking for a bargain.  That was good news for Goldblatt’s, which was closing its last fourteen department stores.

Every retailer seemed to have a special sale.  Rose Records was featuring Barbra Streisand’s “Memories” album and “The Jacksons Live.”  If you were interested in books, Kroch’s & Brentano’s offered a coffee-table volume on the Royal Wedding of Charles and Diana.  Polk Brothers’ big item was a 25-inch RCA color TV, with remote control, for $598.

State St Christmas

Of course, a few shoppers were interested in the latest in electronics.  Polk’s was also selling a state-of-the-art RCA video cassette recorder for $598.  An electric typewriter was available for $274.  And at Oak Brook, the local computer store had slapped a $530 discount on the Apple Family System.  The new, low price was $2,095.

Toys remained traditional in 1981.  Dolls and air rifles, puzzles and action figures were being advertised.  A good portion of the kids’ merchandise was connected to the “Dukes of Hazzard” TV series.

As the sun started to go down, a happy throng gathered at State and Wacker.  Mayor Jane Byrne pushed a button.  In front of her the 70-foot city Christmas tree burst into light, and all down the State Street Mall, 100,000 white lights glistened.

The crowd cheered.  It was the Christmas season in Chicago!

—30—

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6 Responses to “Shop ‘Til You Drop (11-27-1981)”


  1. 1 Garry November 27, 2013 at 6:53 am

    Sorry John, but Black Friday isn’t the busiest shopping day of the year.
    I believe that’s two or three Sundays later.

  2. 3 benson November 27, 2013 at 9:44 am

    I didn’t realize (primitive) Apple’s were already in stores in late 1981. I remember my late father in law buying a Dell system (with 80 MEGA bytes of RAM) in 1990 for $2000.

    • 4 J.R. Schmidt November 30, 2013 at 11:37 am

      I didn’t get a computer until 1992. But I did buy my first VCR in 1982–$700, even with an employee’s discount.
      –JRS

      • 5 benson December 2, 2013 at 10:06 am

        We were living in Springfield in 1982, and I bought a Fisher VCR (what a piece of junk) at Famous-Barr (akin to Marshall Field’s) for $900. Thirty years later that’s still a healthy chunk of change.

        The title of busiest is all conjecture. The one that comes to mind is busiest party night of the year. Used to be New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day, but now people believe it’s the night before Thanksgiving.
        It’s like crowd estimates made by City of Chicago officials. 🙂 500,000 and 2 mil. Tomatoe tomato

      • 6 J.R. Schmidt December 2, 2013 at 10:24 am

        I don’t recall the Fisher VCR, but I remember Famous-Barr from my trips to St. Louis–like Marshall Field’s, it’s another nameplate that Macy’s replaced. Whether New Year’s Eve, or St. Patrick’s Day, or Halloween was a designated party day never mattered to serious drinkers like my Dad. Though he was half-Irish, he never drank on St. Paddy’s Day. He called it “amateur night.”


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