Valerie Brunmeier of San Jose plans a festive feast for her family on Thanksgiving, but two of her sons will have to hustle off to their retail jobs at local malls later that night.

"How do you relax when you know you're heading out the door at 10 p.m. or so to go to work, and work all night long?" she said.

This year more big-box stores than ever are opening on Thanksgiving night to get a leg up on Black Friday, the traditional kickoff to the holiday shopping season.

Target, Best Buy, Kohl's, Gap, Walmart, Toys R Us and Macy's are among the major retailers that plan to fling open their doors early this season. Some stores plan to open at 8 or 9 p.m. Thursday, while others will open a few hours later at the stroke of midnight, trying to jump-start sales amid an uncertain economic climate.

But the early openings have prompted a backlash by consumers and store employees, who say Thanksgiving should be reserved for family time, and it's unfair to compel people to work on a major holiday.

Anthony Hardwick, a Target employee in Omaha, Neb., started a petition on Change.org protesting the chain's plan to open at midnight on Thanksgiving. It went viral, attracting more than 180,000 signatures as of Friday afternoon, and has spurred dozens of copycat petitions addressing other stores.

"A midnight opening robs the hourly and in-store salary workers of time off with their families on Thanksgiving Day," it says.

Target, which has found itself the subject of dozens of media reports on the backlash, issued a lengthy Q&A about Black Friday. It said the midnight opening was prompted by feedback that some customers prefer to shop that night rather than waking up early for crack-of-dawn sales.

"Opening at midnight on Black Friday wasn't a decision we took lightly," wrote Tina Schiel, Target executive vice president of stores. "We heard from our guests and talked to our teams, seeking to understand how changing the hours would impact them. We heard overwhelming support for the earlier opening."

Backlash 'insane'

Helen Bulwik, president of New Market Solutions, a retail consultancy in Oakland, didn't mince words about the backlash, using the words "ridiculous" and "insane" to describe it.

"The reality is, a business needs to have the hours it needs to have," she said. "To try to dictate when a store can open just makes no sense. We want people to buy and we want people to have jobs."

In the face of high unemployment, "retailers will have to struggle for every single dollar they bring in," she said.

Hence the Thanksgiving openings.

"They're totally based on getting a competitive advantage," Bulwik said. "We all know that people are not buying as much and there may be fewer people buying. Stores are trying to be the first movers to capture those customers."

The National Retail Federation expects holiday sales this year to hit $465.6 billion, up 2.8 percent from last year. That growth slightly outpaces the average holiday sales annual increase of 2.6 percent, NRF said, but lags last year's 5.2 percent increase from 2009.

Black Friday deals

Black Friday weekend (Friday through Sunday), when stores trot out special deals on everything from cell phones to scooters to sweaters, will draw 152 million people, up from 138 million last year, according to a survey commissioned by the trade group.

"We fully expect to see excited shoppers as early as midnight at stores around the country, as many holiday shoppers would rather stay up all night to take advantage of retailers' Black Friday deals rather than set their alarm to wake up the next morning," NRF CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement.

But a number of Bay Area residents said they would opt out of Thanksgiving shopping and hoped stores would too.

"Particularly on a day when we're supposed to be thankful for what we have, to open a place to go and get more stuff seems to be against the spirit of Thanksgiving," said Ally Press of San Francisco, who works in online marketing and signed the Change.org petition. "It's excessive."

Online protests

Brunmeier, the San Jose woman whose sons must work early Black Friday shifts, is part of an online movement called "Respect the Bird," started by cooking site AllRecipes.com, that seeks to keep December holidays from overshadowing Thanksgiving.

"We want to get rid of that whole thing about having Christmas music starting in stores in October," she said.

E-mail Carolyn Said at csaid@sfchronicle.com.


What do you think of Black Friday Shopping?
Or do you wait for Cyber Monday?

Views: 158

Replies to This Discussion

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I appreciate your comments -- thanks.

I won't mince words: I fucking hate Black Friday.

 

And yes, a big part of it is the fact that I've worked 11 years in retail. This will be my first holiday season since I started working that I will not be working retail, only because I recently went through liquidation (Borders). Though I miss my store & my co-workers (and all those books...), I have no intention of going near the mall after Thanksgiving, until January.

 

I don't understand the manic obsession people have to go to a crowded mall to buy stuff for people that they probably don't really want or need. I prefer thoughtful, meaningful gifts. I do my shopping in little bits over the year, as I find things that remind me of the people I care about.  If I need to buy anything after Thanksgiving, I better be able to find it online. It may not make much of a difference, but I intend to stay away from the malls during the holiday season.

 

While I enjoy celebrating a winter holiday where you get to exchange gifts, eat yummy food and spend time w/friends & family (though I could do w/a little less family time), I don't see xmas as anything to get all worked up over (as far as shopping is concerned).

Thanks deepthought42 - I agree with you!

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