Laboring on Labor Day

Published 2:19 pm Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The history of Labor Day reveals that in 1882, laborers in New York City celebrated their first holiday, and it was meant to include a parade and pay tribute to the American worker.

The tradition spread into other states until it became a formal federal holiday.

The tradition spread and transformed even further, where retailers opened their doors and celebrated the unofficial end of summer with sales and new merchandise.

“Of course we’re open, why wouldn’t we be?” said Shannon Bicknell at The Peanut Patch in Courtland, one of many retailers whose doors were open on the “holiday.”

“That’s part of retailing, to be open.”

The Peanut Patch is holding an end-of-summer sale to make room for its fall merchandise, Bicknell said.

“We had a good weekend,” she said.

One retailer who was also open on Labor Day had a simple explanation for doing business on a holiday: “The bank charges interest [on business loans] whether Monday’s a holiday or not,” he said.

At Franklin Lawn and Garden, Gwen Overby went even further into the seasons during their Labor Day. She was decorating Christmas wreaths.

“We got a shipment last week,” she said. And rather than store the Christmas merchandise only to break it out next month, she said the decision was made to display the trees, ornaments, wreaths, as well as other holiday-related items.

“Rather than put it away,” she said, “we put it out.”

She said later: “We’ve never had Christmas out this early.”

Normally, she said, holiday inventory gets put on display by Oct. 1.

“We have three seasons” on display, she said, waving at displays throughout the showroom on General Thomas Highway south of Franklin.

“Summer, fall and winter,” she said.

Her center has been open on Labor Day or years, Overby said. And some holiday weekends are better than others.

“We had a little flow all morning,” she said.

People are putting down mulch, preparing for cooler weather, but Overby said there was a difference this holiday weekend.

“This is probably the slowest Labor Day” in recent years, she said. She blamed the sluggish economy, as well as the uncertainty during this presidential election year for the slower sales.

But she said many people were probably home on Labor Day, since the area’s public schools opened on Tuesday, and no doubt stayed close to home if they needed to shop for something around the house.

“It’s nice to get people who shop locally, I’ll tell ya’,” Overby said. “We’re just glad to have any faces come through that door today.”

Bicknell echoed the sentiment.

“You see all the traffic,” she said, pointing to Route 58 passing in front of the store.

Not everyone who comes into a store is there to buy.

During the day, Overby had customers look at packages of seeds to grow squash, but what they really wanted was a recipe for what they thought was a particular variety of squash.

After looking at the fruit and pulling out a reference book, Overby decided the sample was cushaw, and offered advice not only how to cook it, but how to use it as a decoration around the house.

It’s part of being open, Overby said.

“It’s our business,” she said. “If we don’t look after it” who will?

She said family members usually work the holiday shifts.

“It gives the others a break,” she said, “if that’s possible.”