A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from November 22, 2012
Doorbuster

A “doorbuster” (also “door-buster” or “door buster") is a sale on goods that is so low-priced that customers will wait for the store to open and seeming break down its doors to get the goods. Some “doorbuster” deals are offered only at a specific time (early opening hours of 8-11 a.m., for example). “Door-busters” has been cited in print since at least 1917.

According to a 1925 account (below), the term “door-buster” began in the 1890s-1900s at the John Wanamaker store. In a rush to purchase calico at 1c a yard, customers broke the plate glass windows of the door. This account of the origin of “door-busters” has not been confirmed with newspaper citations from that time period.

(This entry was prepared with the assistance of David Barnhart.)


A Way with Words
door buster n. a discounted item of limited quantity intended to bring customers into a store; a sale of such items; a loss-leader.

Oxford Dictionary
doorbuster Pronunciation: /ˈdôrˌbəstər/
noun
informal
1 (in retailing) a special discount price available for a limited period, typically during special early-opening hours.
2 a firearm with special attachments for forcing entry through a door.

28 August 1917, Cedar Rapids (IA) Daily Republican, pg. 6 ad:
Here Are Wednesday’s Eight O’Clock “Door-Busters”
(The Killian Co.—ed.)

5 October 1923, Sioux City (IA) Journal, pg. 18 ad:
“Here’s a Real Door-Buster for Friday” says Mr. Lo-Cost when he saw the biggest values of the year in
To $5 Lingerie
(Martin’s—ed.)

29 April 1925, Burlington (IA) Hawk-Eye, pg. 7, col. 2:
“DOOR-BUSTER”
DO YOU KNOW
WHAT THEY ARE?
The “Inquiring Reporter”
Learns What a Door-
Buster Is and Why

When the “Inquiring Reporter” learned that Glass’ Smart Shop were to feature ten “Door-Busters” during their Executive Managers’ Sale, which starts this week, he approached the City Editor’s desk and humbly inquired, “What’s a Door-Buster?”

“That’s easy,” said the City Editor, “it’s an axe.”

Not being satisfied with this answer, the inquiring reporter made a trip to the store, and this is what he learned:

The term “Door-Buster” originated in the John Wanamaker store about thirty years ago.

Calico 1c a Yard.
During a sale, held at a time when the calico dress was the height of fashion, calico was advertised at 1c a yard. The next morning there was a tremendous crowd waiting for the doors to open and in the rush to get into the store to buy calico for 1c a yard, one of the plate glass windows in the door was broken. After the rush, one of the store official remarked: ‘That bargain certainly was a Door-Buster.”

The term caught the fancy of the mercantile world and any bargains of a sensational nature which will bring a crowd to await the opening of the store is called a “Door-Buster.”

6 June 1933, Rockford (IL) Morning Star, pg. 3 ad:
9 O’CLOCK
DOOR BUSTER
(Rockford Dry Goods Co.—ed.)

26 May 1937, Rockford (IL) Register-Republic, pg. 9 ad:
“Door Busters! These Bargains Are Hot”
(Penney’s—ed.)

19 May 1939, Seattle (WA) Daily Times, pg. 21, col. 1 ad:
DOORBUSTERS!
(Penney’s—ed.)

19 May 1950, Evening World-Herald (Omaha, NE), pg. 9, col. 1 ad:
DOORBUSTER
BARGAINS!
(Bordys—ed.)

Google Books
Nina Upstairs
By Beverley Gasner
New York, NY: Knopf
1964
Pg. 11:
These are small items — headlined DOORBUSTERS! TWO TO A CUSTOMER! — that appear in the Sunday sale pages. The waiting women have the look of hungry house pets.

Google Books
Business Mathematics:
A Collegiate Approach

By Nelda W. Roueche
Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall
1969
Pg. 261:
Another 50 of the dippers were sold as “door busters” during a sale for 25c each.

Google Books
Retailing, Principles & Practices
By Dale M. Lewison and M. Wayne DeLozier
Columbus, OH: Merrill
1982
Pg. 26:
K-Mart’s weekly “doorbusters” often are priced at or near cost in the hope of generating store traffic that will purchase related products and impulse items.

23 September 1983, The Associated Press, “Domestic News”:
It was the deal of the century, maybe the millennium: dinosaur bone fragments for a buck, door-buster discounts on mammoth molars and half price on trilobites.

10 December 1984, Washington (DC) Post, “Oh Come All Ye Shoppers” by Jerry Knight, Washington Business, pg. 1:
Reducing peak loads also is the goal of the early-morning and late-night promotions. Breakfast at Tiffany’s may be more romantic than breakfast at Woodies, but Tiffany’s doesn’t have 8 a.m. doorbusters. Some stores practically will pay you to shop at that hour, and you’re likely to get better service from clerks who have not yet been trampled by gift-givers.

10 July 1986, (Nexis), “Street Smarts: How marketing works for home builders,” sec 2, pg. 6:
Says Ron Rulof, Lieberman Homes, “Newspaper sections have become more competitive, so we’re using more direct mail. In a particular part of town, it’s better to identify prospects via income and special interests than run a door buster offer.”

Google Books
Amole One More Time
By Gene Amole
Boulder, CO: Johnson Books
1998
Pg. 17 (November 25, 1993):
But good old Thanksgiving Day remains on Thursday, like a rock. There are very few red-tag sales, doorbusters, sell-a-brations or inventory clearances on Thanksgiving Day.

OCLC WorldCat record
Ten tips from today’s designers - How to make your branch investment pay off. Step Six: Be sure to have a “doorbuster.”
Publisher: [New York, Published for the American Bankers Association by Simmons-Boardman Pub. Co.]
Edition/Format: Article : English
Publication: ABA banking journal. 100, no. 8, (2008): 40
Database: ArticleFirst

OCLC WorldCat record
CROWD CONTROL - Communication, planning critical to incident-free “doorbusters.”
Publisher: New York : National Retail Dry Goods Association, c1947-
Edition/Format: Article : English
Publication: Stores : the bulletin of the N.R.D.G.A. 91, no. 11, (2009): 54
Database: ArticleFirst

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityWork/Businesses • Thursday, November 22, 2012 • Permalink