Published November 29. 2013 4:00AM
Remember those wonderful family traditions on the day after Thanksgiving in the good old days?
No, not that far back, when people went for a walk in the park, tossed around a football or visited with friends - we're talking about those mornings only a few years ago when post-Turkey Day meant rising before dawn to race to the mall in time for Black Friday sales.
Judging from the number of tents pitched outside big box stores in major cities all week and nonstop advertisements from merchants promising whopping discounts on flat screen TVs, smartphones, tablets and other popular items, shoppers will still be out in force today. But there are signs that Black Friday may one day wind up with all the commercial appeal of Arbor Day.
First of all, many major retailers, including Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy and Toys R Us, jumped the gun by opening Thanksgiving Day. They've even started calling it Gray Thursday.
We think this is a depressing, intrusive development that cheapens with crass consumerism what should be the most family-oriented, truly American holiday.
State Rep. Matthew Lesser, D-Middletown, evidently feels the same way and has proposed legislation that would force retailers who want to open on Thanksgiving to pay their employees triple overtime. That's not a bad idea.
We like what they do in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maine even better: abide by centuries-old Blue Laws and restrict store openings on Thanksgiving and Christmas. (Maine, by the way, is principled to a point - it exempts L.L. Bean from such a restriction).
Many retailers did wind up paying employees who came in on Thanksgiving time-and-a-half, offered generous store discounts and even served turkey dinners with all the trimmings, but we nevertheless regret that some workers have had to give up time with their loved ones just because shoppers want to save a few bucks on mobile devices and other gadgets.
Secondly, Black Friday's so-called deals may not always be that great.
The financial advice website NerdWallet reports that more than 90 percent of Black Friday ads this year feature items being sold at exactly the same price as they were last Black Friday, and some are even priced higher today than they were earlier this year. As always, shoppers should abide by the dictum "Caveat emptor" - let the buyer beware.
Meanwhile, shoppers who may have skipped Gray Thursday and Black Friday are poised for Cyber Monday, when online retailers hope to jump start their holiday sales with special deals. All this Web commerce should keep the UPS and FedEx trucks rolling throughout the holiday season.
Cost-conscious consumers can profit from so much competition, but this newspaper encourages them not to overlook one more special day that benefits communities as well: Small Business Saturday, a nationwide event to encourage holiday shoppers to spend at local, independent businesses.
Countless shops throughout the region are among the country's 23 million small businesses that account for more than half of all U.S. retail sales, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
They are the lifeblood of the economy, offering one important component that most big box stores can't: personalized service.
Small businesses are owned by friends and neighbors; they support local causes; they are part of the fabric of every community.
Though Saturday's event is designed to help small, local businesses, some large, nationwide enterprises are also getting involved.
FedEx has offered to print two free copies of a company's Small Business Saturday poster, Twitter says it will provide $100 in advertising credits to the first 10,000 new business users who open accounts, and shoppers who use their American Express card to buy at least $10 worth of merchandise from a qualifying local retailer on Small Business Saturday will earn a $10 credit on their next bill.
With all these special dates set aside for shopping, consumers shouldn't forget that another occasion will be arriving soon: the day their credit card bills are due.