The New York Times: Some retailers promote decision to remain closed on Thanksgiving

Originally by The New York Times, by Steven Greenhouse
November 14, 2014

Photo by John Minchillo/AP

This Thanksgiving, the open-versus-shut debate has grown even louder.

Walmart, Kmart, Macy’s, Target, RadioShack and many other major retailers are proclaiming that they will be open on Thanksgiving Day to make shoppers happy. But Costco, Marshalls, GameStop and T. J. Maxx are riding the backlash against holiday commerce by boasting that they will not relent: They will remain closed that day to show that they are family-friendly and honoring the holiday.

But even as retailers vie for every dollar during a very competitive season, Tony Bartel, the president of GameStop, views this debate as open-and-shut. “For us, it’s a matter of principle,” said Mr. Bartel, whose company has 4,600 stores nationwide. “We have a phrase around here that we use a lot — it’s called ‘protecting the family.’ We want our associates to enjoy their complete holidays.”

In a big difference from last holiday season — when more retailers decided to open their doors on Thanksgiving with enticing deals — this year others are firing back and promoting their decision not to join the rush to push Black Friday into Thanksgiving Day. They are happy to tell the world that they will remain closed on a beloved American holiday.

“It’s an important holiday in the U.S., and our employees work hard during the holiday season, and we believe they deserve the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving Day with their family and friends,” said Richard A. Galanti, executive vice president and chief financial officer at Costco Wholesale, the nation’s second-largest retailer after Walmart. “We’ve never opened on Thanksgiving, and when the trend to do so occurred in the last couple or three years, we chose not to because we thought it was the right thing to do for our employees.”

More than two dozen major retail chains plan to stay dark on Thanksgiving, including Barnes & Noble, Bed Bath & Beyond, the Burlington Coat Factory, Crate and Barrel, Dillard’s, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Patagonia.

Johan Araujo, a senior game adviser at GameStop’s flagship store in Herald Square in Manhattan, applauded his company’s decision. “It’s good to know they’re thinking about us and what we want,” he said. His plans involve cooking the turkey for his fiancée and friends this year.

Sidney Bartlett, the manager of Mr. Araujo’s store, said that when the store used to be open on Thanksgiving — it started closing for the holiday last year — it was painful to figure out which employees to inconvenience and schedule to work that day. “I thought it’s great the C.E.O. decided to close for the holiday,” he said.

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He said it saddened him to see so many stores open that day. “We’ve shifted as a nation — it’s not so much about the family, it’s all about business,” said Mr. Bartlett, who is studying for an M.B.A. at Columbia.

GameStop stores will open at 12:01 a.m. on Black Friday, and they expect a crush of customers to snap up new versions of the exceptionally popular games Call of Duty, Halo and Assassins Creed.

“We don’t believe we will lose any ground to competitors,” said Mr. Bartel, the company’s president. “Even if we lose some ground to competitors, we are making it corporate principle — we have committed to associates that we will not open on Thanksgiving.”

Pushed by competitive forces, some malls are opening on Thanksgiving Day for the first time. In Paramus, N.J., Westfield Garden State Plaza and Paramus Park will open from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., prodded by Macy’s decision to open its stores in those malls.

Walden Galleria, a mall with over 200 stores near Buffalo, threatened to fine retailers about $200 an hour if they don’t open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

Carrie Gleason, director of the Fair Workweek Initiative, a campaign pushing retailers to adopt schedules that are more friendly to workers, said, “What’s different from years past is there are more and more retailers coming out publicly and saying, ‘We’re staying closed on Thanksgiving.’ ” They want to demonstrate to their customer base that they’re family-friendly.”

More than 55,000 people have signed a petition on urging Target to remain closed on Thanksgiving, while the Boycott Black Thursday Facebook page has more than 87,000 likes.

Walmart officials say they are doing consumers a favor by opening on Thanksgiving. To reduce the long lines that have upset many shoppers on Black Friday, Walmart announced on Tuesday that it would spread Black Friday over five days.

“It became Black Friday, then it became Thursday, and now it’s becoming weeklong,” said Duncan Mac Naughton, chief merchandising officer at Walmart. “Maybe it’s going to be November.”

Deisha Barnett, a Walmart spokeswoman, said many shoppers were happy that the company would be open on Thanksgiving. “We’re in the service industry, and we’re just like airports and grocery stores and gas stations that are open on Thanksgiving so they can provide what customers need,” she said. “We’ve been open on Thanksgiving for 20-something years.”

Walmart will again face a wave of protests this holiday season. Our Walmart, a union-backed group of Walmart workers pushing for higher pay, said on Friday that it would hold protests at 1,600 Walmarts on Black Friday.

After keeping almost all its stores closed last Thanksgiving, the financially troubled RadioShack said that it planned to open its stores from 8 a.m. to midnight this Thanksgiving. But after some employees voiced dismay, the company changed course to give them time for their feast. Its stores will open from 8 a.m. to noon, close for five hours and reopen from 5 p.m. until midnight, and again at 6 a.m. on Friday.

The University of Connecticut Poll conducted a survey last Novemberthat found that nine out of 10 Americans said they didn’t plan to spend Thanksgiving hunting for bargains, while 7 percent said they planned to visit stores on Thanksgiving Day.

The poll of 1,189 adults, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percent, found that 49 percent disapproved of stores opening on Thanksgiving Day, with 16 percent approving and 34 percent neutral.

Last Thanksgiving, J. C. Penney, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Sears and Target all opened at 8 p.m. This year, Kmart plans to open at 6 a.m. and remain open for the next 42 hours.

“All these companies were closed for decades,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. “What’s changed is that some have chosen to remain open, and those companies should be getting demerits. People should ask, ‘Is this the sort of society we want to live in that people aren’t even given the option of celebrating holidays?’ ”

He said that if stores decided to open on Thanksgiving, working that day should be voluntary, not mandatory. He said many part-time workers were eager to work on Thanksgiving.

Mr. Appelbaum praised the Macy’s store in Herald Square for using only workers who volunteer to work that day

Macy’s plans to open at 6 p.m. this Thanksgiving, two hours earlier than last Thanksgiving — and Sears is doing the same thing. “Customer response to the 8 p.m. opening last year was exceptionally strong,” said Jim Sluzewski, Macy’s senior vice president for communications. “At Macy’s Herald Square store, we had 15,000 customers waiting outside when the doors opened. The experience was similar across the country. Many customers asked why we couldn’t open a little earlier.”

In contrast, he said Bloomingdale’s, a Macy’s subsidiary, would remain closed on Thanksgiving Day, saying it was “less promotional” than Macy’s.

Roger Beahm, executive director of the Center for Retail Innovation at Wake Forest University, said it was smart competitively for retailers to open on Thanksgiving. “Did the folks who questioned the sanctity of Thanksgiving learn a lesson?” he said. “A good start to the holiday retail season can really make your year, and a late start can really cripple retailers.”

Dan Evans, a spokesman for Nordstrom, said his company kept its stores closed on Thanksgiving, with a few employees completing holiday decorations that day, before they are unveiled on Black Friday.

“If our customers really wanted us to open on Thanksgiving, that’s what we’ll do,” Mr. Evans said. “We used to be closed on the Fourth of July. We used to be closed on New Year’s Day, but customers wanted us to be open on those days, so now we’re open on those days. Our customers guide us. We don’t guide them.”