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The end of Black Friday?

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image A Target Store manager rallies his troops in the moments before the doors were unlocked in the early morning hours of a recent Black Friday. Photo Mitch Traphagen

Controversial decisions to open stores on Thanksgiving Day coupled with online shopping could mean the end of Black Friday.

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

The Thanksgiving Day newspaper lands with a resounding “thunk” in the driveway. In an era of ever-shrinking newspapers, this one is an exception. It is huge, filled with pleas for your holiday shopping dollars. Some people simply can’t wait; they head out to convenience stores the night before to pick one up. 

Then began the tradition. Families would gather for Thanksgiving Day and when the turkey and leftover stuffing was put away and the pumpkin pie a memory, the family could dig through the seemingly infinite advertising inserts to find gifts or dreams. It was all right there in the newspaper.

For some the day after Thanksgiving would start very early. A few years back I arrived at a Brandon area Target Store to photograph the Black Friday madness. By the time I arrived about 4 a.m., the line of people had already stretched around the building and continued out of sight. A few people groaned when I was allowed inside the door before they opened. I watched the store manager rev up his employees for the long day ahead, and found a place behind a burly, plain-clothed security guard to await the onslaught that would arrive once those glass doors were unlocked.

The newspapers are traditionally so huge with advertising that this year, the Omaha World Herald made the controversial decision to charge their customers an extra $2.75 for the Thanksgiving Day paper.  It wasn’t necessarily well received but in some ways, it could be a last hurrah. Black Friday is rapidly fading into the annals of America’s cultural history. These days no one has to get up in the wee hours to wait in line for hours when a few clicks on a computer can generally garner the same deals, from the comfort of your own home while wearing your pajamas. More, even brick and mortar retailers are abandoning the tradition with many now opening on Thanksgiving Day.

And that is a highly controversial move. Although it is likely the stores may well be packed on Thanksgiving Day, some people are rebelling at the mere thought of it. That includes even the likes of actor George Takei, with more than 5.1 million followers on Facebook, people who usually enjoy his stream of jokes and witticisms. 

“When stores […] move their Black Friday sales to Thanksgiving Day, they truly have forgotten the purpose of the holiday--and cynically ask their employees to leave their loved ones, too,” he posted on Monday. “Stay with your families on Thursday, friends. Cook and eat together. Watch a football game or a family movie. Call your relatives. Don’t waste your precious day off standing in lines or fighting crowds in malls.”

While an epic battle appears to be only growing between the titans of brick and mortar retail and online retail for the dollars of holiday shoppers, a battle that has grown to the point that it now has enveloped one of the nation’s most sacred holidays of gratitude, a smaller tradition is working to gain a foothold in the maelstrom. Small Business Saturday, held this year on Nov. 30, is emerging as a quieter alternative to support small, local businesses, helping them into the black financially, long the axiom of Black Friday. Even some large corporations are supporting the concept, with American Express offering cardholders $10 back on purchases of $10 or more at qualifying small businesses (visit www.shopsmall.com for details).

Most large retailers plan to open at some point on Thanksgiving Day this year, although a few, such as Costco, Nordstrom, Marshalls, TJ Maxx, and Barnes and Noble have refused to join in. Outdoor clothing company Patagonia told the Huffington Post that their “stores would remain closed so their associates can celebrate the holiday with their family and friends.”

Barnes and Noble, along with most of the above stores, plan to open in the very early hours of Black Friday.

It is anyone’s guess as to whether or not retailers increasingly opting to open on Thanksgiving Day, coupled with an increase in shopping online, will spell the end of Black Friday.  In the midst of the battle of the shopping holiday dollars are the voices of those, quiet but there nonetheless, saying that Christmas and the holidays aren’t supposed to be about dollars. But for retailers, that is something they simply can’t consider; their livelihood and the livelihood of millions of employees depend upon those dollars and thus the battle heats up, consuming even a national holiday.

Next year, of course, it might be different. After all, Halloween isn’t quite so sacred of a holiday as Thanksgiving and the way things are going...

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