Black Friday’s days are numbered. It had a nice run before having to share the spotlight with Cyber Monday. But surely we all saw this coming. For years, the “official kickoff of Christmas shopping,” “the busiest retail day of the year,” or “the day retailers’ balance sheets move into the black”—call it what you will—has been creeping backward into Thanksgiving Day itself. It seems an inexorable force of nature, like eroding beaches or my hairline. Resistance is futile. “For the first time in its 155-year history, Macy’s is joining the parade of retailers turning Thanksgiving night into a shopping bonanza,” reports USA Today.
Sure, the marketing talk is still about expanding Black Friday. Kmart is touting a 41-hour shopping marathon, starting at 6 a.m. Thanksgiving morning and ending at 11 p.m. Black Friday. But if Kmart’s gambit to stay open all day on Thanksgiving succeeds, its corporate parent, Sears, and a host of other stores that already open around 8 p.m. will surely follow. Once all-day, brick-and-mortar retailing on Thanksgiving Day becomes the norm, marketers will need a new phrase to brand the event. Here is one they won’t choose that captures what I think this trend means for the holiday: “Black Thanksgiving.”
I mourn the loss of Thanksgiving as a day when most people can pause from perpetual busy-ness to spend time with loved ones, share a meal together, and count their blessings. Despite mythmaking about Thanksgiving’s origin, it has been as close as we are likely to get to national consensus—an observance remarkably free of partisan politics, sectarian squabbling, and class division. My wife and I no longer eat turkey (or other birds or animals), but we have successfully maintained a 25-year tradition of hosting wonderful Thanksgiving celebrations that bring together families of different faiths and generations with different politics.
Yes, I realize that some folks have always had to work on Thanksgiving. Police, firefighters, hospital workers, elder care providers, the military and others perform vital functions that cannot be suspended. They should be among those we give our thanks. Stocking shelves with Chinese imports and scanning baskets full of bar codes, while important, do not fall into the same category.
Retail workers—nearly 15 million people—comprise about 10 percent of the U.S. workforce and earn just two-thirds the median hourly wage for all workers ($10.88 versus $16.57). Retail salespeople and cashiers, the two largest retail occupations, make even less at $10.10 and $9.05 per hour, respectively, and often must work part-time, variable shifts that include nights, weekends, and holidays. They stand on their feet for hours and endure more rudeness and indifference than people who have never done the job can imagine.
One way we could show our thanks for the work they do is by allowing them to celebrate Thanksgiving the same way most people in other occupations do. I grew up in a retailing family and ran our small business for 16 years. I never opened our stores on Thanksgiving or Christmas, so our staffs could enjoy these holidays the same way my family did—together, all day. Scheduling a family celebration around shift work doesn’t sound much like a holiday. It sounds like a typical day for retail workers.
After selling the business in 2002, I no longer had to decide between passing up potential sales and doing right by my employees. However, I continued to think about the issue each year while being bombarded with Black Friday advertising and covering 6 a.m. door-busting frenzies several times as a newspaper reporter. This year, Richard Easton and I have a new book available in stores, so the question of sacrificing sales for the sake of a holiday is once again relevant to me, though beyond my direct control.
Of course, we hope that people will buy the book for themselves, as a gift for someone else, or both. But the folks who staff bookstores and other stores deserve the same full-fledged holiday that most other workers enjoy. We ask that you please make your purchases prior to Thanksgiving Day or on the day after—the day we now call Black Friday. It will keep that name only if consumers resist the marketing hype, restrain their shopping urges, and take a day off. Otherwise, Thanksgiving as we’ve known it will be history.