Tis the holiday season, a time for gatherings and gratitude, and yes sometimes gifts. We are all familiar with Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday and a host of other days I am certain I have lost track of. This strange tradition is rooted in quite a lot of myth and misinformation, and dare I say fun. No I will not argue the merits of getting up at 4 am to catch a fantastic bargain on snow blowers or video game consoles or even a rare bottle of Westvleteren 12, but making a go of it with one (or some of) your favorite people can turn into an adventure that can last an entire day, and memories that last a lifetime. Perhaps that is one of the very reasons we engage in these shenanigans in the first place. Or perhaps it all started with football.
Annually in the 1950’s the Army Navy game would be held in Philadelphia the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The Friday after Thanksgiving was a time when hordes of tourists and suburban shoppers flooded the streets of Philly in anticipation of the game, and a little retail therapy with utter pandemonium ensuing. Every police officer was required to work overtime to deal with the fallout. It was the Philly Police that actually dubbed it Black Friday. By the 1980’s the term was rebranded by retailers to denote the official start of the holiday shopping season with big sales, and even bigger profits- removing the influence of the Army Navy game which has since been moved to December. Taking a look at any annual sales report will demonstrate how very successful this rebranding has been. 30% of annual retail sales take place in the month between Black Friday and Christmas. According to the National Retail Federation an average Black Friday shopper spends over $1,000! Incredible really. This is a retailer’s golden hour to turn a profit.
So, what does all of this have to do with beer? Quite a bit. I was gently reminded by a Brewers Association of Maryland post recently that breweries are small businesses too. Of course I knew that, but many think of breweries as manufacturing entities- often disconnecting the ‘small business’ side that could benefit from the holiday shopping season from the industry they are categorized by. The more than 6 dozen breweries in Maryland. Almost all have a taproom, and benefit from the direct brewery sales, but they also benefit from the 3rd tier retail shopping that takes place at package stores across the state. Like other small brick and mortar businesses in Maryland they are looking to the post-Thanksgiving crowd to help boost their sales, recognition and profitability.
This year America has had a resurgence in consumer confidence- and spending. The National Federation of Independent Businesses has reported an optimism in the economy that we haven’t seen in years, promoting greater capital investment in small businesses, and an increase in hiring to meet the anticipated demand. This is all fabulous, but there is much for breweries and all small businesses to contend with. Breweries comprise an industry that is capital intensive. The equipment costs can be astronomical. Profitability for breweries has webbed and flowed over the decades, sometimes suffering from hop shortages, and more recently aluminum tariffs. Greg Kitsock of the BA just published an in depth look at the rising cost of aluminum and its impact on craft breweries. Now, most of us wouldn’t mind paying $1 more per 6-pack for our favorite craft beer if it meant the extra shelf life that aluminum cans provide. Competition is tightening however in the craft beer market, and for some folks $1 or $2 might make a difference at the checkout counter through no fault of their own.
Small businesses are the backbone of Maryland’s economy, creating jobs, building communities, and supplying tax dollars to pay for important and necessary services from schools to transportation to critical infrastructure. We all need small businesses, and breweries are immensely important to each and every neighborhood they operate within. A purchase from a local brewery or business is an investment in your community. I ask you all to bear that in mind this and every season.
Now even though Small Business Saturday and Black Friday have passed, get out of the house and go shopping at a small local retailer, preferably with your favorite person/s and don’t forget to make a stop at the nearby brewery. I can guarantee you the service will be friendly, and you are sure to make lasting memories.
P.S. Don’t forget to tune into the Army Navy game on December 8th (preferably at your local brewery) after all they started this adventure in shopping!