For as long as I can remember, the day after Thanksgiving has involved shopping. Being 57, we’re talking over half a century! But when I was growing up we didn’t refer to it as “Black Friday”, even though the term has apparently been around much longer than I have. It was just the “Day After Thanksgiving” sales and shopping.
When I was very young my mother, my sisters Karen and Gail and I would all head to downtown Providence, Rhode Island to do our Christmas shopping. I loved every minute of it - the busyness, the crowds, the escalators in the fine old department stores, the Christmas decorations and the excitement of finding just the right gifts for family members. But the highlight of every single one of those Day After Thanksgiving excursions was lunch at Shepard’s Tea Room. It was always crowded and always worth the wait.
Like Shepard’s itself, the Tea Room had beautiful, gleaming wood and I remember an overall rosy glow to the place - could have been paint; could have been lighting and surely fond memories as well. Shepard’s Tea Room managed to be both elegant and casual all at once. I remember the Turkey Club Sandwiches as being a favorite along with a fountain Coca Cola. We would sit around the table, enjoying our lunch and pore over our Christmas lists as we planned our shopping strategy for the afternoon.
Yes, the stores were crowded. Yes, there were many sales in all the stores. But it was never as chaotic and aggressive as it has become in recent years.
When the Midland Mall was built in Warwick in 1967 and the Warwick Mall followed in 1970, our Day After Thanksgiving shopping forays to Providence soon came to an end. Shepard’s was anchoring the Midland Mall; Jordan Marsh and Filene’s, both from Boston, were anchoring Warwick Mall. Our lunches at Shepard’s Tea Room were replaced by lunches at the Woolworth’s Lunch Counter and the Newport Creamery.
The new stores in the new malls were oh so very modern; the parking was always crowded but readily available; all the stores were close together and we didn’t need to bundle up before we headed out onto the street to dash off to the next store. My glasses no longer steamed up as I entered a new store; the Christmas lights didn’t twinkle and glow the same way through those foggy cat’s eye glasses.
We missed the Tea Room, but made new memories.
We were certain we had gained so much through the addition of those sleek malls.
It would be years before we truly understood all we had lost.