Sandra Thomas has a Thanksgiving tradition for the past 21 years that’s different than most people.
Mark Philibin has the same tradition, and it’s been his for 40 years.
Sandra and Mark are among a handful of Vindicator colleagues who have been elbow deep for years in the same Thanksgiving activity:
Making the Thanksgiving Day edition of The Vindicator.
This Thursday, The Vindicator’s Thanksgiving Day newspaper will be what it has been for decades – our biggest newspaper of the year as it transports up to 40 retail store circulars to homes around the Valley. The most full of those editions will weigh nearly 3 pounds.
“After all the hectic work, it’s a sense of pride to see everything go out the way it’s supposed to,” said Sandra. “People will get their Thanksgiving ads. It’s kind of exciting. It’s a great feeling; a sense of pride.”
The production of the Thanksgiving paper is unlike any other of the year.
Most editions of The Vindicator are produced in a 24-hour cycle. A paper in your hands Monday morning didn’t exist until Sunday afternoon and evening. It was not sitting in a back storeroom for a couple weeks and then put out for sale Monday.
A normal Sunday paper has some of the work done a day or so in advance. But most of it is still created Saturday.
Seven days of newspapers and 364 days a year flow this way.
But for Thanksgiving Day.
Because of the glut of retail store circulars, work on that paper actually started weeks ago.
Placement orders come weeks in advance from stores and their agencies across the U.S.
Then the semi-trucks start showing up on Front Street.
Each store insert that you read starts with us as a stack of thousands that arrive via semi-trucks on a wood pallet wrapped (and wrapped) in plastic. Lots of semi-trucks. Those trucks visit newspapers all over the region dropping the same content. All of the stores’ circulars arrive this way.
Around our warehouse, you can’t really make out the Target-red or the Walmart-blue inserts under the thick plastic. White order sheets atop the plastic ID the store and the insert date.
Last Wednesday, work started on organizing the 40 inserts into packages that will eventually get stuffed into the Thursday paper.
An inserting machine has 20 or so stations, each station is one store. An army of people keep the stations full of inserts. The machine picks one insert at a time and stuffs it into a wrap section – kind of like a sub sandwich getting filled with all sorts of ingredients as it moves down the line.
The machine moves rapid-fire – like the post-office machines that sort mail.
Not every house gets the same insert packet. Some stores want all towns; certain stores want certain towns, and we have to oblige. It’s common for a person in Poland to talk to a sibling in Howland – and they have different sets of Vindy inserts. Readers often think they were missed by us. But it is a store decision.
More stuffing will happen Monday and again Wednesday night when the live paper is assembled just before delivery.
“It’s one of the more upbeat editions we have, due to an attitude of thankfulness,” said Jim Davies, production supervisor.
It’s been this way for years – and we’re not all that sure how, when or why.
Obviously, it’s in response to retailers and their push for Black Friday shopping crowds. On that, there’s some cool history.
But where and when newspapers became lead purveyors in this process, it’s unclear, except for the historic role of hosting circulars.
Daven Hiskey has a solid story posted on the “Today I Found Out” news site. Among its claims:
Back to the 19th century, the Friday after Thanksgiving has been a major Christmas shopping day because lead retailers were often key hosts of Thanksgiving parades.
Those parades were full of Christmas promotion themes to entice shoppers.
Retailers grew weary of Thanksgiving being the last Thursday of the month as it cut short the shopping season.
In 1939, to help the economy, President Franklin Roosevelt stepped in and ordered the second to last Thursday be Thanksgiving – adding an extra week to the shopping season.
There was grumbling in pockets of the country about this. But by 1941, we all agreed.
“Black Friday” has many legends. The most valid from the 1960s has negative connotations. Retailers then tried to get it called “Big Friday.” But that tanked.
So here we are.
Today’s marketplace is completely new, with Amazon, eBay, Google and such cannibalizing the brick-and-mortar retail market.
I’m sure some of their rise was ironically aided by crazy Friday scenes at stores the past 20 years with stampedes, fights and arm-wrestling for Cabbage Patch dolls.
Increased store hours – even on Thanksgiving – seem to have lessened much of that madness. Retailers seem to walk the line between good deals at the store and deals also online.
The Black Fridays seem to be solid and still in demand. Our mailroom shows that.
Here is a video from Vindy.com showing all of this work and Jim, Sandra and Mark.
People still clamor for the Thanksgiving paper, and Jim, Sandra and Mark keep their tradition going.
“I’m happy to just get it out,” said Mark. “Get it going and keep on trucking down the highway.”
Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.