The first time I worked on Thanksgiving Eve was wild. The grocery store where I clerked was packed full of shoppers who walked an uneasy line between crazed and excited. While I bagged 20-pound turkeys and maneuvered carts full of holiday fare, I kept an eye on the clock. At 9 p.m. I knew I’d be free for the next 36 hours, a blissful reprieve after days of serving shoppers battling for the last dozen eggs or choicest cut of ham.
These days the tradition of giving retail workers a day off for Thanksgiving seems to have gone the way of savory Jell-O molds. This year as many of us are carving the turkey or settling down in front of the game, thousands of North Carolina retail workers will be clocking in.
For years stores have kicked off the holiday season with deep discounts on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. As retailers have tried to one-up each other, opening times have crept back to pre-dawn hours, or even just after midnight. Walmart, which employees more than 50,000 North Carolina workers, has announced that this year Black Friday sales will start at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day.
The mega retailer is joined by Sears, Target, Best Buy, Toys R Us and more, all of whom are offering seemingly amazing prices to shoppers who are willing to go straight from Thanksgiving dinner to the sale rack. Instead of relaxing with their families, workers at these stores will be manning the registers, ringing up bargains.
And while groups have begun to push back against “Black Friday creep,” retailers say they are only responding to demand. While hundreds of thousands of names on a petition calling to keep workers at home on Thanksgiving is great, companies say they can’t argue with the 35.4 million shoppers who say they plan to spend money on Thursday.
If you really want to show support for retail workers, wait until Black Friday to get your retail fix, or even better, wait until Small Business Saturday. North Carolina is home to thousands of locally owned businesses that plan to offer discounts and coupons to patrons on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Shopping locally means tax dollars stay in your community and can also mean a more unique gift. And even more important, it means you are rewarding businesses who value their employees enough to let them spend the holidays at home with their families.
In North Carolina the average retail worker makes less than $12 an hour, and in some areas stores like Walmart are the only employer in town. More than half of retail employees are women, many of whom are the sole wage earner for their household.
Although many companies say they are giving employees the ability to opt out of a Thanksgiving shift, as a 10-year veteran of the grocery industry, I can tell you this isn’t the reality. During the holiday season workers fight for hours, and saying you can’t show up for a busy shift like Thanksgiving evening or Black Friday can mean managers will give you a light schedule later in the season that won’t pay the bills.
Experts say there are few bargains that can’t be found online, or by waiting until a little later in the holiday season, so this year make it a point not to get pulled in by the shiny circulars and promises of a once-in-a-lifetime low price. If enough people stay home Thursday and shop local Saturday, maybe Black Friday will creep back to where it belongs.