NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Despite those Americans who wonder why we still celebrate Columbus Day, it has become an Italian-American antidote to St. Patrick's Day, with wine replacing beer and pasta instead of cabbage. Parts of 23 states, along with the U.S. Post Office, offer it as a paid holiday.
Businesses everywhere expect to see a spike in customers, although some areas moreso than others. Excitement is highest in cities offering parades this weekend, including New York, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco, where it's called the Italian Heritage Parade.
The holiday is less of a big deal in Franklin, Tenn., home of IHL Consulting Group, which analyzes retail trends. President Greg Buzek put it simply. "People shop when they're not at work. The more people who are working the less people shop." So in the East, Midwest and Rocky Mountains it's a shopping day. In California, Texas and Florida it's just another manic Monday.
Columbus Day started in Denver with an Italian-American publisher, Angelo Noce, who pushed to make it an official holiday. Protests against it in Denver have since become their own tradition, dating back to 1989.
There is no doubt that Columbus Day everywhere serves as a business opportunity, a way-station in which to sell something other than candy and costumes in the run-up to Halloween.
Furniture companies like Bassett (BSET) - Get Report and Hooker (HOFT) - Get Report have made big sales and TV ads their own Columbus Day tradition. Home Depot (HD) - Get Report and Lowe's (LOW) - Get Report will focus on fertilizer, weatherproofing and other seasonally related products for what Buzek calls "hunkering down."
One wild card is lower gas prices, Buzek added. "Every sustained penny drop in the gas price, over a year, is $1.7 billion" in consumer spending power. Nationally, gas is selling for $3.27 a gallon, down from $3.44 just last month and is below $3 a gallon in some places.
Clothing retailers with a big presence in Columbus-friendly territory, like Macy's (M) - Get Report Bloomingdales units, as well as Nordstroms (JWN) - Get Report , Urban Outfitters (URBN) - Get Report , Gap (GPS) - Get Report and Target (TGT) - Get Report , are signed up to offer discounts as high as 50% to 70% on selected merchandise. The weekend also creates an opportunity in cold weather merchandise like sweaters, scarves and coats.
Whether Columbus Day is celebrated in the streets or at the mall is a key question for investors in mall operators like Simon Properties (SPG) - Get Report and General Growth Properties (GGP) , as well as their major tenants like JC Penney (JCP) - Get Report . If Penney's is to continue its new momentum under CEO Mike Ullman -- the shares are up 62% from their February low -- we will see it this coming weekend.
The question for merchants in places that have abandoned Columbus Day, such as Minneapolis, which this year renamed it Indigenous Peoples Day, is whether the commercial trappings surrounding it will go as well, or whether our kids should just wander off to the nearest casino each October. Maybe a Columbus Day article in 2030 will all be about Harrah's (CZR) - Get Report .
At the time of publication the author owned no shares in companies mentioned in this story.
This article is commentary from an outside contributor, separate from TheStreet's news coverage.