Downtown Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Credit: Anne Mostue

Black Friday in a Struggling Community

November 22, 2012

Black Friday conjures images of shoppers on spending sprees and store owners welcoming big crowds through their doors. But it doesn't look like that everywhere.

Lawrence, Massachusetts has an unemployment rate of 13.9 percent, which is down from a month ago, when it was the highest in the state. It's main street has several vacant storefronts, but it's festive - decorated for the holidays, and there's a fair amount of foot traffic. The most popular place? A donut shop.

"I just got a bran muffin from Heavenly Donuts. They're the best," says Eleanor Bolis. She's 90 years old and says she's seen this former mill town look very different during the holiday season.

"It's a good city. The big stores are gone….the good stores left, we have to be satisfied with what we've got. But I love Lawrence. I've been here all my life," Bolis says.

Perhaps most noticeable are some of the newer stores, many with signs written in Spanish. Yeimi Vasquez is a clerk at Urban Fashion.

"We sell high end clothes for club wear, so if you're going clubbing, you want something that's different, unique, this is the place to go. On Black Friday we do have a discount."

Vasquez says it's the store's first Black Friday, and they're opening at 9 a.m.

"I'm hoping that we have a very successful Black Friday. People just want to go shopping so I know that they are going to be since early in the morning everywhere, all over the place. But since we do have discounts, that’s something in our advantage so hopefully they come and hopefully we have a good selling day," Vasquez says.

A few blocks away, at My Little Peru, owner Sonia Terbulleno sells jewelry and clothing from Peru and other places. I asked her what’s happening in her store this Black Friday.

"AM: Que va a pasar el viernes negro en este tienda?

ST: Es mi primer viernes negro que voy a tener aca. Pienso ya que va a ver concurrencia. Pienso, no mucho por que Usted sabe la economia no esta bien. Pero hay que intentar, hay que poner anuncios…"

Terbulleno says it's her first Black Friday and she hopes for a big crowd but isn't sure she'll see one. She says she's been advertising and telling customers she'll be open early too. One customer, Jonathan Vega, says for him, his wife and stepchildren, Black Friday is all about saving money, not spending it.

"I want to buy a tablet and some presents for Christmas. I want to do it early so I don't spend that much, so it saves me money," Vega says.

The city of Lawrence does have a few chain stores but the people I spoke to say they’ll keep pushing the buy local movement.

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