Blue Thursday

On Sundays, people in Bergen County, NJ habitually tend to stay around the house and spend some quality time with their families or maybe even go outside and get some exercise. One thing they usually don’t do is shop, at least not locally.

The Bergenites didn’t develop this habit by choice: Bergen County has some of the most restrictive blue laws in the country. Large retail establishments, including the mega-mall cluster in Paramus (home to the first malls in America, established in 1959), are prohibited from opening for business on Sunday. There periodically have been efforts to repeal the blue laws, but thus far the traditional Sunday shopping ban has held firm.

Bergen and the rest of America always have been on the same page when it comes to Thanksgiving, when everything is closed everywhere. At least that’s the way it used to be.

In recent years, large retailers battered by a faltering economy have circled their wagons around Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Encouraged by demographic studies declaring the Friday after Turkey Day the busiest shopping day of the year, the Big Box stores and many others have relentlessly expanded hours and tailored mega-bargains for Black Friday. They’re aiming at people eager to get a head start on their Christmas shopping before they’ve barely digested their Thanksgiving dinner.

Last year, some of the biggest chains opened their doors at midnight as Thanksgiving turned into Black Friday. Other stores waited until 6 a.m. on Friday and found dozens of people camped out in their parking lots in anticipation of the opening bell. But just about everyone–with the dubious exception of Walmart, which has kept the store lights burning on Thanksgiving for years–maintained the sanctity of our favorite holiday.

That was then. It probably was inevitable, but this year the red line has been crossed by a herd of mega-chains in what threatens to turn into a full-blown stampede. Target, J.C. Penney, Macy’s and Best Buy, among others, all have announced they’ll be open for business on Thanksgiving (Macy’s having the advantage of thousands of parade goers happy to come inside and warm up). These outfits are throwing open their doors in the hours when most of us haven’t finished scarfing down pumpkin pie. The Scrooge prize goes to Kmart, which will open at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving and plans to stay open for the next 41 hours.

It’s bad enough that a growing number of shop-a-holics can’t resist the urge to bolt from the family dinner table in the middle of a family-oriented national holiday to go shopping. It’s even worse that these fanatics will be clogging up the roads when many people will be heading home from turkey dinner with their extended families.

But worst of all is the fate consigned to the people who now are being forced to work on Thanksgiving, whether they want to or not. Double overtime and in-store discounts just don’t cut it when you don’t show up at Grandma’s house on the one day of the year she always expects you.

Memo to Congress: take a cue from Bergen County and pass a federal blue law prohibiting retail operations during Thanksgiving.

We’d say more on the subject, but we’ve got to go baste our bird. Business Facilities wishes everyone a great Thanksgiving!