We live in the Age of Big. Venture out nearly anywhere and Big is up in your grill. Nowhere is this more evident than in the retailing world. Big is so big it’s developed its own vocabulary. Superstore. Super Center. Super Market. Big Box. Doorbuster. Outlet Mall. Warehouse. The first modern strip mall in the US was built in 1951 in St. Louis Park, MN. It’s name? The MIRACLE MILE. Mystical and huge.
There was a time when bigger meant more variety. Today, however, it’s just as likely to mean more of the same. The vocabulary of Big has a word for that stuff: Product. Indistinguishable one from another. For example: “The trucks come every Tuesday with fresh product direct from the factory.” It conjures up visions of boxes full of this off-white, uniform “stuff” made of who-knows-what that is molded or stamped or processed into blenders or socks or Little Debbie Snack Cakes or brake pads. It’s all Product, all the same, and all available at any Superstore near you.
Around this time of year, someone somewhere attached a name to an already established mass shopping action following Thanksgiving on the fourth Friday of November. They called it “Black Friday”, which, depending on whose doing the talking, got it’s name because it’s the day retail business sales finally exceed costs for the year, putting the retailer in a profitable state, or “in the black”. Others say it compares the shopping madness to a trip to Hades, or maybe the annual Dark Side of the Force Holiday Party at Vader’s place. Just for kicks one year my wife and I got up at 3am and drove to a Big Box electronics store in the Twin Cities to be there when the doors opened to buy a Doorbuster laptop. When we arrived it was only 5 above zero, and a line of shivering people wrapped all the way around the Big Box which still wouldn’t open for two more hours. Applying some basic math we determined our odds of buying one of the five “Doorbuster” laptops were not in our favor, so we turned around, drove home and hopped back into bed
“Black Friday” has grown from a single day to a week, and this year even longer with the first mention before Halloween…which, by the way, began with Halloween candy for sale before Labor Day. But that’s another story for another day. In 2005, a reporter coined the phrase “Cyber Monday” to describe the niche but quickly growing trend of avoiding crowds and wait to make their purchases online on Monday when they were back in the office and had access to high-speed broadband. In between Black Friday and Cyber Monday came the retort from local retailers, and “Small Business Saturday” was born.
Certainly there are exceptions, but for the most part Big Business, Small Local Business and Online Business sell similar “Product”. Therefore, “Black Friday”, “Small Business Saturday” and “Cyber Monday” are primarily campaigns designed to convince the consumer WHERE to shop and secondarily WHAT to shop for. But what if you don’t want the same old Product? What if you want something different? Unique? Crafted? Something NOT just like everything else. Where do you go?
Back in the 13th century, Turkish and Persian artisans came up with a different way to sell. The neighboring Persians called it a “kusshk” (Note: Maybe the Persians should pick up a few extra vowels the next time they’re at market), described as a summer house, or a garden with three walls and an open front where seasonal foods and artisan goods were sold. In April of 1717 Lady Wortley Montegu, the wife of the British Ambassador to Istanbul, wrote a friend in England of the “chiosk”, described as a structure up 9 or 10 steps from its surroundings enclosed with gilded lattices. I can’t speak for everyone, but “gilded lattices” sure sounds more fun than “Look in Plumbing, Aisle 36, between Appliances and Automotive.” Later, “chiosk” was shorted to “kiosk” (pronounced KEE-ahhsk). The kiosk sells the unique and hand-crafted… what you generally cannot get anywhere else.
In “The Wizard of Oz”, the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion already had the brains, heart and courage they were looking for. What they received were a diploma, a heart-shaped watch and a medal, respectively. The artists and artisans of the Kiosk have their unique creations. What they didn’t have was a DAY…until Sioux Falls’ award-winning ad agency Fresh Produce made it so. FP Creative Director Ted Heeren says, “It’s a great way to spotlight a lot of interesting and industrious local vendors. We call it “Shopping Without Walls”. FP’s Brian Bieber adds The vendors generally don’t have traditional retail storefronts. “Kiosk Thursday gives them and their potential customers the opportunity to meet in a friendly, face to face venue.” This year’s vendors will include locally-produced vinyl records, tapes and other merch, Sioux Falls photographer Abby Bischoff’s 2016 “Abandoned South Dakota” calendar, Darling Vintage, featuring hand-made clothing from found vintage fabrics, hand-made Christmas ornaments, and the full-line of merch from “Rock Garden Tour”, the South Dakota-produced public radio and TV show and podcast. Gifted Sioux Falls musician Dalton Coffey and some special guests will perform live at noon, while Dan and Liz from vendor Total Drag Records will spin vinyl both before and after. providing the appropriate aural backdrop. All customers will be favored with refreshments.
Don’t get me wrong. The Big Box, the local small business and online commerce are all important to the economic health of every city and state in the U.S., and they all have their moments when they are the right place with the right thing at the right price at the right time. I guess the point of Kiosk Thursday is to make sure the artist, craftsperson and budding entrepreneur have their place in the game, too. Bieber says, “The people who set up kiosks at Fresh Produce for Kiosk Thursday are some of the hardest working, talented salespeople around. I think a lot of us here share a fascination with the transitory nature of kiosks. Here one day, gone the next. It makes the experience of buying feel exclusive and special, and just a little bit dangerous.”
Well, I like to shop the unusual and experimental. And, Danger IS my middle name. I’ll be checking out 2015’s “Kiosk Thursday”, and I encourage you to do the same if you’re in range.
For up to the minute info on additional vendors, sales specials and other surprises, follow @pickfresh on Twitter, and @pickfreshsd on Instagram.
- For a look at the origins of Kiosk Thursday, and information on this year’s event, go here: https://soundcloud.com/pickfresh/fresh-friday-85-kiosk-thursday
- Links to some of the vendors:
- Skullmore: https://www.facebook.com/Skullmore-278782858912798/
- Total Drag Records: https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=total%20drag%20records
- Different Folk Records: https://www.facebook.com/differentfolkrecords/?fref=ts
- Abandoned South Dakota 2016 calendar: https://www.facebook.com/abandonedSD
- Darling Vintage: https://www.facebook.com/Darling-Vintage-186898814729254/
- Rock Garden Tour: rockgardentour.com
- Fresh Produce: pickfresh.com