A Los Angeles Times story a few days ago highlighted Dwandalyn Johnson, a 51-year-old retired insurance clerk, who told a reporter that it is well worth the hassle to wait in lines to score a bargain during the Thanksgiving shopping season. Johnson said, “If Black Friday wasn’t here, we’d go into debt from Christmas shopping. I can buy things I wouldn’t otherwise buy, and you can buy two or three outfits instead of one.”
Writing about Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday have become a holiday tradition for me. It’s part of a routine that takes place each year before family and friends gather, and before the shopping spree that follows.
I’m one of those people who enjoy the post-Thanksgiving shopping season. And apparently, I’m not alone. Last year, I marveled at the line of people who ran from Target’s front doors to the opposite corner of the back of the building waiting to get in. The shopping is good for the economy, good for the people who snag a deal, good for retailers and good for the employees who work for stores, companies and product manufacturers.
But the reason for my writing about Black Friday (or collectively Black Thanksgiving weekend) is that Idaho law makes all of this economic activity illegal. As I have previously noted, in 1939 the Idaho Legislature passed a law called the Unfair Sales Act.
The law, which has changed little since Depression-era legislators passed it, says, “The practice of selling certain items of merchandise below cost in order to attract patronage is a deceptive form of advertising and an unfair method of competition. Such practice misleads the consumer, works back against the farmer, obstructs commerce and diverts business from dealers who maintain a fair price policy, with the result of unemployment, underpayment of employees, excessive working hours, nonpayment of taxes and an inevitable train of undesirable consequences including economic depression. This act is designed to make illegal such practice and to promote the general welfare of the state of Idaho.”
Those deals that you try to pick up on Thanksgiving night, the following Friday, Small Business Saturday or Cyber Monday are illegal. If prosecuted, retailers face substantial fines not only for the sale of goods at below cost, but also for each product advertised at below cost. For a big box store advertising dozens of door-buster products, the penalties could reach millions of dollars. For the smaller entrepreneur offering items as a loss leader, the penalties could be cataclysmic.
Last legislative session, Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, introduced legislation to end Idaho’s prohibition on Black Friday and similar sales events, but his proposal went nowhere. Hopefully, he’ll bring the legislation back for another try in the 2015 legislative session.
For now, Idaho will endure yet another holiday shopping season with illegal sales that are enjoyed by and beneficial to thousands of Idahoans each year. I’m thankful for this season, thankful for all that this year has brought and all that the future promises. I’d also be thankful for the Legislature to repeal the Unfair Sales Act so I don’t have to write about this problem again.
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