A blackening Thursday

November 27, 2013
Kiley Degarmo of Claysville, shown at Washington Crown Center, enjoys the “rush” of Black Friday shopping and plans to start Thanksgiving evening. - Rick Shrum/Observer-Reporter Order a Print

There are traditionalists, then there are traditional Black Friday shoppers. Kiley Degarmo of Claysville is among the latter.

“Sometimes we don’t buy anything,” said Degarmo during a visit to Washington Crown Center Tuesday. The ‘we’ refers to a frenetic fivesome that includes her daughter, mother, sister and niece.

“It’s ‘the rush.’ We like seeing crazy people fighting over little dolls or something.”

With many stores opening earlier today – Thanksgiving Day – Degarmo said her group will have holiday dinner between noon and 1 p.m., then hit the stores around 6 tonight.

National retailers are opening their doors even earlier Thanksgiving this year – one as early as 6 a.m. But unlike Degarmo and her family, many in the area say they’ll be staying home today.

At least one area retail expert finds the encroaching Thanksgiving retailing trend disappointing, and locally a group of small, independent retailers won’t open today, holding out for a traditional Black Friday opening tomorrow.

But make no mistake, more of Thanksgiving Day is being co-opted by national retailers, who began the trend a couple of years ago, with the holiday earning the moniker “Black Thursday” last year.

• Today, Toys R Us will open at 5 p.m.

• Following just behind the toy retailing giant are Best Buy and Walmart at 6 p.m., with Target, JC Penney, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Staples and OfficeMax opening their doors at 8 p.m.

• Sears Holdings Corp. will also open its Sears stores at 8 p.m., but beat all of its national competitors to the opening bell today with a 6 a.m. opening of its Kmart stores.

• Washington Crown Center has 64 stores, and more than one-third – 23 – will open at 8 p.m. today, said Michael Joyce, general manager of the North Franklin Township mall.

Ten will open their doors at midnight, and 30 of the remaining 31 at 5 a.m. tomorrow. Marshall’s, closed today, will open two hours after that.

All 64 stores will stay open until 10 p.m. tomorrow.

• The 84-store Tanger Outlets will continue with a 10 p.m. opening tonight, an event it launched two years ago with a response that has quickly filled its massive parking lots both years.

This year, earlier openings by other retailers in the area, coupled with a televised 8:30 p.m. Pittsburgh Steelers game, has general manager Jodi Dague wondering when the crowds will appear at the South Strabane Township shopping venue.

“The uncertainty is the timing of when they’ll come here,” Dague said last week.

A shorter season

Last year, despite protests from some employees and Thanksgiving Day traditionalists, national chains including Toys R Us, Walmart, Target and Sears opened their doors on the holiday.

This year, they open earlier, apparently hoping to capture more of Americans’ holiday shopping dollars in what will be a shortened holiday shopping season. With Thanksgiving on Nov. 28, the run-up to Christmas features just 26 shopping days, compared with 32 last year.

The move to more and earlier openings today doesn’t make everyone happy.

Call it a traditionalists’ Thanksgiving backlash or maybe an attempt at a Black Thursday Blackout, but according to an informal survey conducted on the Observer-Reporter’s website last week, many plan to spend today at home with their families – not in the stores.

When the Observer-Reporter’s daily poll question for Nov. 21 asked: “Stores are opening earlier on Thanksgiving. Will you be shopping early?” it gave respondents the option of shopping on Thanksgiving, waiting for Black Friday or not shopping on either day. The results from the 408 respondents were overwhelming.

A staggering 86 percent, or 349 respondents, said they won’t be shopping either day. Only 4 percent plan to venture out today, while another 11 percent plan to go tomorrow.

Asked whether they thought it was appropriate for stores to be opening earlier Thanksgiving to ramp up for Black Friday, 76 percent of respondents said “No.”

The sentiment was even more salient when the O-R asked readers a similar question on its Facebook page last week.

“As usual, I will stay home with family on Thanksgiving and not go anywhere near a store that day or Black Friday. No one should be shopping on Thanksgiving Day,” wrote Lesley DiBello.

After about five years, Kellie Laschinsky is breaking from Black Friday. Walking through Washington Crown Center Tuesday, she said she started her holiday shopping in early October, and that more of it is online.

“I’ve stood in long, long lines at midnight,” said the Washington resident. “I’ve done all-nighters. They’re killers. I usually find good deals online.”

Like much of the populace, Laschinsky is “against Thanksgiving shopping. I think they should leave the holiday alone.”

Irreversible trend

Despite the decision of many to start their holiday shopping at another time, many others are predicted to jump into the fray tonight and tomorrow.

According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, as many as 140 million people are expected to hit the stores over the four-day weekend. About 33 million people will shop today, but the biggest day will be Friday, with about 97 million shoppers.

The move to earlier retailing on Thanksgiving is “very disappointing” to Dr. Audrey Guskey, associate professor of marketing at Duquesne University, who follows national and regional retail trends.

“Thanksgiving was our true spiritual and family-based holiday” that until a few years ago was the most non-commercial of the major holidays, said Guskey.

While stating that she supports retailers and their efforts to turn a profit – particularly from the holiday shopping season – Guskey said she draws the line at stores taking time away from today’s traditional turkey dinners and family get-togethers.

She, however, views the shopping-on-Thanksgiving trend as irreversible, no matter how much traditionalists protest.

“People are going to do it anyway,” she said, adding that the trend has a detrimental effect on those who work in retail and must head out to staff a store later today.

“They can’t have as much time to relax with their families,” she said, adding that she believes the additional shopping time on Thanksgiving just ahead of the traditional Black Friday shopping day won’t make much of a difference to retailers’ bottom line.

“I don’t think it’s a win-win for anyone,” she said.

Four new businesses have located to the Shoppes at Quail Acres in North Strabane Township, but none of Quail Acres’ ll stores will be open today.

“Not on Thanksgiving. That’s family time,” said Jo Beth Barr, owner of Ooh La La Boutique, one of two businesses that sell custom-made items within one shop – French Quarter. Chandelle Chaleur is the other.

She said the shops off Racetrack Road will be part of the Black Friday equation, though. Starting tomorrow, they will be open every day through Dec. 23 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Wednesday, and 10 p.m. to 7 p.m. each Thursday.

Barr eagerly anticipates the arrival of shoppers tomorrow, but is especially stoked for the following day: Small Business Saturday.

“That’s bigger than Black Friday for us,” she said.

Retail’s tall order

The NRF, which represents large and small retailers, expects sales in November and December to marginally increase 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion, over 2012’s actual 3.5 percent holiday season sales growth. The forecast is higher than the 10-year average holiday sales growth of 3.3 percent.

Even some retail industry executives acknowledge that it will take a lot more than adding a few more shopping hours on a national holiday to return retail’s fortunes to its glory days.

When NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz presented the holiday forecast in October, he had a tall order to place on the industry’s wish list.

“In order for consumers to turn out this holiday season, we need to see steady improvements in income and job growth, as well as an agreement from Washington that puts the economic recovery first.”

Michael Bradwell has been business editor for the Observer-Reporter since 1995, and was named editor of The Energy Report in 2012. He joined the newspaper in 1990 as a general assignment reporter in the Greene County bureau and has also worked as a copy editor. A 1974 graduate of Pennsylvania State University with a degree in English, he began his career at the Bedford (Pa.) Gazette. Prior to joining the O-R, he served as public relations director for Old Bedford Village, account executive at two Pittsburgh public relations agencies and copywriter for the country’s largest wholesaler of mutual funds.

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Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won seven individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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