Column: Black Friday has crossed a line, it’s called Thanksgiving

A shopper carries a bag as she walks out of a Guess store at Dolphin Mall, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015, in Miami. Store retailers saw fewer customer visits on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, compared with last year, according to Kevin Kearns, ShopperTrak's chief revenue officer. (Alan Diaz/AP)

If we look back far enough, most of us can remember a Black Friday that occurred only on Friday. Stores would open at 7 a.m., aside from the rare exception when the doors would open at midnight. In recent years, however, opening hours have crept steadily backward. In the past few years, Black Friday has begun on Thanksgiving Day itself.

After some uneasiness, shoppers accepted the new trend, with some businesses opening as early as 6pm on Thursday, infringing upon a holiday that is supposed to emphasize family togetherness over consumerism.

According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, the Sunvalley Shopping Center in Concord, California required all businesses to be open from 6pm to midnight on Thanksgiving Day, leaving them the additional option to stay open from midnight to 5am before Black Friday hours began.

Maria Mainville, a spokeswoman for mall landlord Taubman Centers Inc. argued that since customers regularly visit the mall on Thanksgiving, Taubman wanted them to have a “consistent shopping experience,” instead of arriving at a half-closed mall. As a result, Sunvalley and other shopping centers have threatened noncompliant businesses with fines.

According to the Wall Street Journal, large retail chains, such as J.C. Penny and Macy’s, have helped set the trend for early openings. Macy’s opened at 6pm on Thursday, while J.C. Penny pushed its hours back to 3pm.

Mall owners have fallen in line with these retail superpowers. According to Retail Services Director Anjee Solanki of Colliers International Group Inc., it is “imperative for retailers and restaurants to be open” on Thanksgiving for purposes of “uniformity.”

In the meantime, smaller stores have become the victims of mall owners’ requirements and the wishes of large retailers.

The regulations only guarantee hours of operation, not customers, so small businesses could spend six hours on Thursday, paying staff and operating their stores, without seeing a single customer. In a New York Times report, Gisela Claassen, owner of the small shop Curds and Wine, said that no customers visited her shop on her first Black Friday opening.

“People don’t go to small businesses [on Black Friday],” she explained. “they go to the big-box stores looking for big, super deals.”

These small businesses simply cannot afford to make the price cuts common at larger chains.

Of course, there are some large corporations that decided to try their chances with the threat of fines and remain closed, even with mandatory hours.

Nordstrom, Barnes & Noble and GameStop all chose to keep stores closed on Thursday, according to the Wall Street Journal. Some mall owners gave the stores a pass for the first offense, but the fines are so minimal for large chains, most do not raise concern.

REI received the most publicity for its decision to remain closed for Thanksgiving and Black Friday, with the outdoor retailer instead launching a #OptOutside campaign, according to a Huffington Post report.

For REI, however, there is little concern that consumers will go elsewhere for their niche products. As Bloomberg News editor Mike Regan said in an interview on NPR’s Here and Now, “If you’re shopping for a specialty gift at REI… something specific to that store, you’re less inclined to go to Target or Walmart for the same thing.”

These stores have taken a huge step away from the absurd craze that Black Friday has become, but the movement to reclaim Thanksgiving cannot succeed if these corporations are not joined by other retail giants in their protest.

Other large retailers must acknowledge that Black Friday, Gray Thursday, Cyber Monday and the weekend of sales in between have gotten out of hand. As long as 12 percent of American consumers plan to shop on Thanksgiving Day, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, corporations will remain open and malls will require that small businesses do, too.

Consumers must recognize their rampant consumerism is threatening to turn Thanksgiving into a debauched holiday. While Black Friday holds, and will continue to hold, a special place in American culture as the beginning of the holiday shopping season, Thanksgiving must be preserved as a day to sit around a table with family, free of senseless commercialism.


Alex Oliveira is a contributor to the Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at alexandra.oliveira@uconn.edu.