It’s time to raise a glass of sour eggnog and toast the stores that stayed open on Thanksgiving.
Years ago, retailers began rushing the Christmas season, diluting its magic by bringing out the candy canes before children had finished their Halloween goodies. Now some retailers simply ignore Thanksgiving.
Macy’s issued a statement explaining it decided to stay open “in response to interest from our customers who prefer to start their shopping early.”
Macy’s didn’t open for business on Thanksgiving for the benefit of their customers, who have (if the stores stay closed on Christmas) 354 other days to “start their shopping early.”
The statement paints the retailer as an unselfish benefactor who is answering the wishes of its customers. It sounds like the statement of every politician who, when doing something that is self-serving, invariably cloaks the action by invoking “the needs of the American people.”
Bill Wertz, the eastern region spokesman for Wal-Mart, said, “It’s become a Thanksgiving tradition to have dinner and go shopping.”
It wouldn’t be any less a tradition if stores bookended Thanksgiving with their special deals and let their employees enjoy the day at home. Even if every retailer asked for volunteers to work, you have to wonder how many would feel compelled to “volunteer” because they need the income. And what happens if there aren’t enough volunteers to staff the store?
America is discarding enough of its traditions; we should hang on to Thanksgiving. Yes, football has become part of the custom, but at least families are gathered around the television digesting a large meal and not standing at a cash register ringing up sales to fill corporate accounts.
If retailers are truly interested in what consumers want, let them survey their customers with this question: Would you rather have us open on Thanksgiving Day, or would you rather we offer our holiday prices throughout the year? Let’s see if the stores respond favorably to what we all know the answer to that question will be.
Thanksgiving is about more than the Pilgrims. On Oct. 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln became the first president to issue a proclamation that established the fourth Thursday of November as a national holiday.
Recognizing America was in “the midst of a civil war,” the announcement also noted things to be grateful for, including the continuation of peace between America and foreign powers and the preservation of order except on the battlefield.
“No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things,” Lincoln declared. “They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly … acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people.”
As the war continued, Lincoln asked people to remember that God is merciful and to focus on our blessings. His words have significance for America today, and it would be good if next year retailers remembered that and chose to lock their doors on Thanksgiving.
On Nov. 27, the Hartford Courant, referencing a UConn/Courant poll, reported, “More than a third of Connecticut residents (36 percent) say the fact that a store opens on Thanksgiving negatively affects their opinion of the store. Three percent say the fact that a store opens on Thanksgiving makes them think more positively of the store.”
That’s an encouraging sign, and here’s another. Connecticut State Representative Matthew Lesser, a Middletown Democrat, says he plans to propose legislation that will compel large stores that stay open on Thanksgiving Day to pay their employees triple overtime. While it’s generally a bad idea for government to involve itself in such matters, Lesser’s proposal is an exception to the rule. It deserves support.
In 1783, George Washington wrote, “We are a young nation and have a character to establish … This is the time of our political probation … the moment to establish or ruin our national character forever.”
Reflecting on Washington’s words, Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind) said, “In a democracy, our probation is permanent because every generation is a new nation to be taught the habits of heart and mind that permit representative government.”
We should keep Thanksgiving a day to reflect on character and blessings. It won’t damage the economy if folks have to wait until Friday to buy a juicer or DVD player.
Joseph Bell was communications director for former Congressman Rob Simmons, Conn.- 2nd District.