By Robert G. Yetman, Jr. Editor At Large
Outdoor gear retailer REI has made some big waves by announcing that it will remain closed on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the unofficial first day of the Christmas shopping season. Not only has the company decided to stay closed on what has become the biggest shopping day of the year, but it will even be paying its employees for the day they’re not working.
I, for one, think it’s great if REI wants to do this, and the company’s Facebook page has been bombarded with messages in support of its decision. The move has prompted many to criticize those retailers who will be open on Black Friday. To be fair, the retailers about which I’ll bet they’re thinking…like the Wal-Marts and the Targets…are, unlike REI, publicly held. That means they are owned by shareholders who would certainly not be pleased if the stores were closed on the biggest shopping day of the year. As a privately held company, REI has no such considerations, and has a great deal more latitude to do what it wants this way; it’s suggestive of popular fast food restaurant chain Chick fil A, also privately held, which has remained closed on Sundays, despite the fact that the rest of its competition is very much open. There would be a massive shareholder revolt if, say, Target decided it wasn’t opening on Black Friday – in truth, the company would likely face legal action from the shareholder base if it tried that.
Besides, is it really the mere fact that businesses are open the day after Thanksgiving that is troubling to many, or is it the insanely-expanded hours they now typically keep on that day? I suspect what has turned people off to so-called Black Friday is the excess. A store is open on a busy shopping day – so what? But what does “open” mean on Black Friday? Does it mean 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., like the standard hours (more or less) of a regular retail location? Not anymore. Now, it means open later in the day on Thanksgiving, stay open through the rest of that night and all through the next day, until around midnight. It’s reached the point where stores are opening so early the day after Thanksgiving, or are now opening on Thanksgiving, that employees are having to significantly alter or outright cancel family plans altogether.
Like I said, if REI wants to do this, fantastic, and how nice for those employees that they will be paid, as well. That said, it’s not reasonable for those of us applauding this decision to use it as the basis to criticize the “usual suspect” retail giants merely for being open on what is, ultimately, just another business day.