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Slack Friday, Small Business Saturday: Downtown Flagstaff businesses challenge an annual tradition

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Holiday Window Painting

Blake Scott, Matti Mason, and Kim Scott of the Holiday Window Splashers show off their work at Max's Body Shop on Route 66 Tuesday afternoon. The generational family business came to town for a few days to paint local shop windows in preparation for the upcoming holidays.

In downtown Flagstaff, small businesses are pushing back against an annual shopping tradition.

Most Americans are familiar with “Black Friday” as the day after Thanksgiving on which hordes of consumers rush to take advantage of sales and buy holiday gifts.

Conventional knowledge has it that this is the day retailers leave “the red” and enter “the black,” by turning profits spurred by the shopping spree.

Not quite.

This definition was only adopted in the 1980s to give the day a positive connotation. Prior to that, Black Friday referred to the phenomena for which the day remains infamous: crowds, congestion and the worst sides of consumerism.

Many Flagstaff businesses have decided to distance themselves from Black Friday by adopting new monikers for the shopping days following Thanksgiving. Enter Slack Friday and Small Business Saturday. Coined by Flagstaff’s Downtown Business Alliance, the term “Slack Friday” is meant to elicit a peaceful approach to holiday shopping.

“It’s encouraging local shoppers to support local businesses in a more relaxed, joyful way than the frenzy of Black Friday,” said Eleanor Krueger, manager at Old Barrel Tea Company.

For those in need of relaxation, Old Barrel will be offering deals on their stock of soothing soaps, teas and spices.

“The idea is that you’re supposed to be able to chill,” said Amy McClelland, manager at Brightside Bookshop.

For Slack Friday, Brightside will be rewarding luck, not haste, by raffling off a $50 gift card and a few unreleased books.

Some businesses have embodied Slack Friday by resisting the pressure to offer discounts at all. This is especially true of the art galleries and co-ops.

“We are probably one of the few businesses that don't have any promotions or sales going on,” said Stephanie Stinski of Arizona Handmade Gallery.

As a gallery that showcases more than 60 local artists, Arizona Handmade prioritizes artist autonomy.

“If the artists want to do any sort of price lowering, then we leave that in their hands,” Stinski said. “We just sell it for them.”

The same is true over at The Artists’ Gallery, which has been serving northern Arizona creatives for more than 27 years.

“We’re artists. We’re not discounters,” said Sondra Francis, a glassworker whose festive ornaments hang ready to become delightful gifts. “Everything’s handmade. I don’t think anyone overvalues their time.”

The choice to refrain from discounting is best appreciated through the lens of Slack Friday’s counterpart, Small Business Saturday. As a means of supporting local small businesses, paying full price rather than bargain hunting can be a powerful act.

“The more money you spend locally, the more money goes directly back into the local economy,” Stinski said. “You’re supporting someone you might know; someone you might walk past in the grocery store.”

Even if the gifts you buy on Slack Friday (or Small Business Saturday) weren’t made by a person you recognize from the bread aisle, shopping local still helps Flagstaff be Flagstaff. Back at Brightside, McClelland witnessed firsthand the way that local customers helped keep the bookshop open during the slim months of the pandemic.

“The bookstore is so thankful to all of our local supporters, because throughout COVID, we've always had an incredible turnout of people showing up,” McClelland said.

In her eyes, shopping local is key to keeping downtown Flagstaff alive and thriving.

“I think if you if you want downtown to look the way it does -- which is so nice and wonderful -- then we've got to keep our small businesses here," she said. "Otherwise, it's going to be empty.”

For more information on downtown shopping during the holiday season, visit downtownflagstaff.org.

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