Has the war on Thanksgiving begun?

Some retailers and consumers are balking at the ever-earlier shopping hours that now threaten to intrude on turkey time.

By Bruce Kennedy Nov 23, 2012 4:19PM

Image: Woman with shopping bags (Tanya Constantine/Getty Images)Retailers are boldly moving Black Friday up a few hours into Thanksgiving, in some cases opening their doors to a shopping frenzy before the last bite of pumpkin pie is enjoyed.

What happened to spending a day with the family? Is nothing sacred anymore?

Now, we're seeing the inevitable backlash against this rampant consumerism -- or at least a smart grab for headlines. J.C. Penney (JCP) is leading the charge against the new eat-then-shop turkey day, saying it's going to "honor" tradition by closing stores on Thanksgiving and opening for Black Friday.

The company is even opening its stores two hours later this year, at 6 a.m. from the 4 a.m. last year. And so the Black Friday pushback begins in earnest -- and retailers need to pick sides.

Are we seeing a war on Thanksgiving emerge here?

Sears (SHLD) and Wal-Mart (WMT) have moved shopping hours into Thanksgiving Day itself, turning the day into what some are calling "Gray Thursday." Other stores, such as Macy's (M) and Target (TGT), are opening some of their stores at midnight, right after Thanksgiving.

But some consumers and employees are balking. Some Wal-Mart employees are so outraged that they are threatening to strike. And at least 300,000 people have signed a petition on the Change.org site calling on Target to "give Thanksgiving back to families" by not opening until Friday.

And a statement by one Wal-Mart employee in Wisconsin, Mary Pat Tifft -- a founding member of the labor right group OurWalmart -- has been getting a lot of notice on the internet.

"My son is coming home from Afghanistan for the holiday," she writes, "and I would be devastated if I had been scheduled to work. I see the disappointment in the eyes of my co-workers, especially those with young kids, that aren’t going to be able to share the holiday with their families."

Iowa-based retailer Von Maur is staying closed on Thanksgiving. "We don't participate in any of the midnight sales and extreme hours," Amy Davis, the company's advertising manager, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "It comes back to a company mindset of being mindful not just of what our customers want, but really taking into consideration our employees."

While 147 million consumers are expected to take part in Black Friday sales, some are wondering if Gray Thursday is necessary. Texas resident Janet David took advantage of the midnight openings last Thanksgiving, but told her local TV news outlet she has mixed feelings about it this year, "because I think you ought to be able to enjoy your holiday and not worry about shopping."

While Penney could certainly use the extra sales time on Thursday -- its sales and profits have been hit hard this year as management overhauls operations -- the company may see more benefit from the goodwill created by its stance against Gray Thursday.


"I know that some retailers are opening on Thanksgiving this year," CEO Ron Johnson said in an email to customers this week, according to The Dallas Morning News. "But spending Thanksgiving with family is one of America's greatest traditions. Since JCP was founded on the Golden Rule, I'm proud to honor this tradition by keeping our stores closed on this special day."

Of course, Johnson added, "we'll be honoring another great American tradition -- Black Friday -- with our one big sale of the year."

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