Like most Ohioans, I started my Black Friday in a suburban shopping mall immersed in a throng of overweight people on a mission to get deals or die trying. Grossed out by the repulsive scent of pretzel dogs and sick of tripping over strollers, I decided it was time to see how the hood celebrates Black Friday. So I took a trip over to Cleveland's Lee-Harvard Shopping Center, the strip mall where I used to go to cop exclusive sneakers and get bootlegged CDs. It's home to such fine establishments as Angie's Soul Cafe, where you can get "real" chicken and waffles, and TNT Fashions, where you can cop the latest Jordans.
My late grandmother used to live down the street from this place, and my family owns a funeral home on the next block that hosts Christian services, many for victims of gun violence. Like other parts of Cleveland, this neighborhood was suffering economic hardships long before the rest of the country, so when the recession hit in the late 2000s, here it felt more like a full-blown depression. Even so, this place still boasts some thriving independent businesses and a community of dedicated, working class people. But it also has higher rates of crime and unemployment than the cushy suburbs where I started my day.
This is Mel, and he's having his own Black Friday sale—hustling bootleg DVDs. "One for three or two for five." Many people in this community are like Mel, who find a hustle to make ends meet because traditional jobs are so scarce. You can buy anything off the street in this neighborhood, from bootlegs to fake designer clothes, especially at the barber and beauty shops. Who needs to wait outside of Best Buy when there's a brother in a wheelchair with shit that hasn't even come out yet?
This is Dominique, Sheta, Tia, and Naye. They would've loved to camp out for a big Black Friday sale, but they had to attend a funeral. Dominique is still holding the flowers and funeral program. I'm not positive about the circumstances of their loved one's death, but it's no secret that many Clevelanders in these parts fall victim to violent crime. I've had the unfortunate displeasure of hanging out with a mortician at my relatives' funeral home as he went to work on teenage boys riddled with bullets. There are more dangerous parts of inner Cleveland than the Lee-Harvard area, but this place is definitely no stranger to the sound of sirens.
This is Emac. He's been working for The Salvation Army for only about a week, and he's already discovered the giving spirit isn't en vogue at Lee-Harvard, even after Thanksgiving. I heard his bell ringing all through the plaza and watched hordes of people pass him without a thought of dropping something in the bucket. Emac was so over the whole charity thing, he answered all of my questions with sad monosyllabic words. Here are some snippets of our conversation:
VICE: Because of Thanksgiving, are people giving more on Black Friday?
How much did you raise today?
Is it depressing because people are so stingy?
This is Irene. She's owned this jewelry store in the Lee-Harvard Shopping Center for more than 16 years. I felt strange walking into her shop because it was like I was walking into her living room. She was so curled up with her book she almost didn't notice when I walked through the door. She laughed at me when I asked if she was getting more business today than any other day. "Some businesses are making money today," she said. "I'm reading a book." I asked her if she's felt the recession, being in the jewelry business and all. She said, "Customers who have money spend it. Because of the economy, people around here are more picky and put their money on things that are important to them."
This is Jared, he works at my favorite store in the Lee-Harvard plaza—TNT Fashions. TNT is the place where I bought my first pair of high top Air Force Ones. They were white with red accents. I don't come here too often because I don't wear sneakers much anymore, but a lot of kids do, even ones that can't afford them. This store has everything a kid could want, from fake bling to hip-hop designer brands to overpriced gym shoes. And it seems to be the only place in the plaza besides the post office and the grocery that is getting any significant business—probably because of their Black Friday BoGo deal on sneakers. But Jared assured me today was nothing compared to a new Jordan release day. When they drop new J's, people camp out, just like at the shopping mall on the other side of town.