Courtesy of University of Washington.
Ballard News clipping collected from University of Washington's microfilm collection.

History Leads: Holiday shopping in 1913

Ballard seems to have always had a different way of doing things, for good or ill.

Newspapers of Ballard are not exempt. Even the Ballard News Tribune has suffered and relished its own oddities. Media itself has changed, but the bottom line for publishing during the holidays is how to get shoppers into stores to appease their advertisers.

100 years ago there was a depraved practice known as “print advertising.” Yes that might sound like a strange string of syllables to some people, but there was a time when that was the sole method of spreading the word.

The Ballard News Tribune did some digging and found out that not only are the November and December 1913 editions of the Ballard News saturated with holiday display ads, but also that it was the role of a Ballard News reporter to let the public know what Ballard merchants had to offer in their “displays” over the holiday season.

In an article called “Ballard Merchants Have Fine Stock,” a staff reporter conveyed to Ballard News readers the goods of 27 Ballard merchants. With a demeanor of a Doug fir plank and over usage of the words like “lavish,” “well displayed” and “beautiful,” the Ballard News reporter defined appetites, idealized products and reaffirmed norms of a strange time.

Ballardites tend to keep it local and the author sang the tune of the time:

“There is little excuse for any Ballard residents to go to Seattle to buy any his Christmas presents.”

Furthermore, in most circles it is said that the holidays are about giving and this was most evident with the Ballard Gives Black event where over 12 local non-profits benefited from local merchants donating portions of their Black Friday sales. This practice was true in Ballard even in 1913 with at least one shop, Broadway Grocery, giving back.

“John Kyle has conducted this store so long that he is the friend of every man, woman and child in Ballard … and will donate to the worthy poor as usual when they are reported to him at the holiday season, as has been his custom for many years.”

The end of the article stirs an all too familiar vein: “Nearly all, if not all, of Ballard stores will be open evenings until after Christmas.”

This was a bold move by the merchants of Ballard considering at the time it was frowned upon to stay open in the evenings because of worker’s union rules. In fact, less than five years earlier in a 1908 edition of the Seattle Star, it was reported that the Retail Clerks Union of Seattle was chastising three Ballard merchants for keeping their stores open past 6:30 p.m.

Even in 1913 and today, Ballardites are doing things their way, whether its newspapers or merchant practices.

The Ballard News Tribune would like to thank the University of Washington library staff, and especially, Wolf, for helping with the elusive micro-film.

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