George Washington was born on February 22, not the entire fourth week of February. His birthday was also not clustered among the birthdays of other presidents. His birthday was unique and once a special event.
I moved to Charlottesville on Feb. 1, 1967. I had accepted a position as Men’s Buyer at Leggett Barracks Road. The new store was trying to get a foothold in selling better apparel and I had some experience in that regard.
When I first arrived, everyone and everything pointed to the big day – February 22. Why? It was George Washington’s Birthday with a huge sale on that day and that day only. It was a major event in Charlottesville rivalling Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July. On that day – and that day only – Leggett’s had a sale to end all sales. The object was to totally get rid of any and all old merchandise. Forty-dollar sportscoats went for $5. Shirts sold for a quarter. It made the old Black Friday look like an ordinary mattress sale at Grand Home Furnishings.
Every conceivable employee was summoned to work, and we arrived at 7 AM. Customers began lining up outside hours before we opened the doors. Mr. Leggett brough in donuts and coffee as we made the final markdowns. The sales staff took their positions, the doors were opened, and it was absolute bedlam. Customers bought entire stacks of trousers and lingerie that had no chance of fitting. Frantic shoppers squeezed into the aisles of the children’s departments. Towels and sheets flew off the shelves. When the doors closed that evening, the tables and racks were bare. There was no more old merchandise. Old George had done his job.
Today, we have a “President’s Day” celebration, but who cares? Stores say they are having a big sale, but not really. George Washington’s Birthday has been folded into a week of irrelevance.
We tend to do that these days – turn special occasions into meaningless drivel. We did the same thing with Black Friday, which was once very special. But Black Friday has now become Black Friday week or Black Friday month.
George Washington’s true birthday has come and gone, and most don’t really care. But I can promise you that anybody whoever worked or shopped at Leggett’s Barracks Road in the 1960’s and early 70’s remember how truly special George Washington’s birthday really was.
February 22. What a sale!