Meredith Carroll: Meredith Pro Tem
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
It appears as if the ripple effect from the current economic crisis has all but destroyed the North Pole, rendering Santa Claus the latest victim of the great Wall Street meltdown of Aught Eight.
A report out on Thursday indicated that retailers suffered the weakest October in 39 years, an inauspicious sign for the holiday season. But closer inspection reveals the sizzle was out of the Kringle’s steak even before the markets imploded this fall.
The traditional super-premature Christmas kickoff never ignited this year. Normally Yuletide early bird specials are seen alongside back-to-school deals. Alas, there was no announcement that 7-foot Christmas Carnival Swings (with Spotlight) or LED flickering window candles could be had for a song if purchased in August.
On Labor Day ” the customary start of the regular early countdown to Christmas ” there were no circulars announcing where to find the best deals on an animated polar bear playing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” on the piano or if last year’s stock of inflatable nativity scenes were still available at half price. Halloween candy enjoyed not having to share any supermarket shelf space with candy canes and chocolate reindeer for the first time ever this year. Just 47 shopping days remain until Christmas and yet there’s barely a whisper that Santa Claus is coming to town ” by sled, helicopter, limousine, on foot or other. Even Arbor Day gets more advance publicity.
With Thanksgiving two and a half weeks away, the only major retailer even mentioning Christmas in its TV commercials is Lowe’s. However, with the slogan “Let’s Holiday at Lowe’s” and the suggestion of “canned goodies” as presents (paint cans filled with Chex Mix is one of their suggestions), surely many days will be made merrier and brighter at the mere thought of receiving the gift of breakfast cereal stored in a container meant to hold volatile organic compounds. Hopefully the Lowe’s campaign will prompt other big box stores to follow suite and get their Noël on, too.
Some smaller stores are beginning to show subtle signs that Christmas is approaching. An advertisement for an online pharmacy urged holiday preparedness ” “Get Ready to Enjoy the Holidays!” ” by illustrating its advertisement with a package of nasal decongestants and a box of Prilosec heartburn medication.
Famed toy retailer FAO Schwarz is trying hard to inspire joy this season despite the economic malaise while at the same time responding specifically to actual malaise. Red and green colors adorn the cover of their latest catalogue. And written on the chalkboard behind the picture of a young girl looking through the lens of a wooden microscope are the words “Temperature,” “Ear Exam,” “Pulse” and “Blood Pressure.” The doctor’s office play set being spotlighted front and center also comes with a skeleton graphic, privacy drape, surgical mask, blood pressure gauge, syringe, X-rays and a full triage kit. Because nothing says Merry Christmas like making Mom and Dad undergo thallium stress tests.
Of course there are even more practical gifts in the FAO Schwarz catalogue. Like the 1942 Willys MB Junior Replica 5.5 hp engine gasoline-powered Jeep. At $9,999 (plus $900 for shipping), it would seem like a handy item to have around in case the End of Days comes sooner than expected. No mention was made if financing is available or what the lease terms are. Either way, hopefully prices at the pump will remain low enough to keep the tank filled.
Even ultra-luxury retailers are feeling the pinch. Sales at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus were down 27.6 percent last month. Of course if Neiman Marcus manages to move one or two items from this year’s Christmas Book, like the Jack Nicklaus Custom Backyard (threehole) Golf Course or the Three Chimneys Farm Thoroughbred Racing Package (complete with 12 to 15 trained thoroughbreds), at $1 million and $10 million respectively, their sales numbers might start getting back on track before the new year.
The hottest gift this season though ” the real “get” ” isn’t clothing, gift cards, toys, cash, electronics or small appliances. No, as it turns out, it’s coal. Not just a stocking-stuffer for naughty kids anymore, the highly sought after fossil fuel is sure to elicit lots of “oohs” and “aahs” when it’s unwrapped under Christmas trees everywhere on the morning of December 25. And then promptly thrown into the furnace to heat up the house. Ho, ho, ho.
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