Column: Thanksgiving sales puts profit over people and families

Thanksgiving night 2012 at Target in Riverhead. (Credit: Grant Parpan, file)
Thanksgiving night 2012 at Target in Riverhead. (Credit: Grant Parpan, file)

“We are offering our shoppers options so that family and friends can choose to come together Thanksgiving evening after they have enjoyed their celebrations,” announced Steve Tanger, president and CEO of Tanger Factory Outlet Centers Inc.

Tanger Outlets stores in Riverhead and elsewhere in the U.S. will open at 6 p.m. this Thursday, Thanksgiving, for what the Tanger company is calling “Moonlight Madness.” In his statement about the earlier-than-ever hours for the outlet centers, Mr. Tanger went on to call shopping on Thanksgiving “a new family tradition.”

I place shopping — and with that, working — on Thanksgiving right up there with some other new American family traditions, including:

• needing two incomes to pursue home ownership,

• contributing to a 401(k) instead of receiving a pension and

• blowing entire paychecks on gasoline and home heating oil.

Catch the theme here?

With all due respect to Mr. Tanger, no doubt a smart and successful businessman, opening stores on Thanksgiving isn’t about family or friends or tradition. It’s about market share and, ultimately, profit.

And corporate greed, I’ve found, runs counter to family values.

People are free to do what they will, of course. People can buy a dog from a puppy mill, but that doesn’t mean a guy like me can’t shame them for doing it. Animal rights groups often remind us that buying a puppy mill dog isn’t about rescuing that dog from the puppy store, as many misguided people might think. Such a purchase keeps the industry afloat, and only serves to open a cage for another dog in another mill.

Likewise, clothing and department store companies wouldn’t be making their employees work on Thanksgiving Day if no one came to shop.

Still, many do shop. Online boycotts -— two notable Facebook groups are “Boycott Black Thursday” and “Boycott Shopping on Thanksgiving Day” — don’t appear to be reversing the trend, as more and more retailers have jumped on board with Thanksgiving Day hours. Kmart stores, for example, will open at 6 a.m. this Thursday and remain open for 42 consecutive hours, it was announced this fall.

Longtime retail employee Kimberly Walters of Riverhead, who will be working this Thanksgiving, put it better than I ever could in a recent letter to the editor. She wrote, simply: “Who really needs to purchase a handbag or shoes or material goods when there are 365 days in a year? (If you were to remove Christmas and Thanksgiving, you’d have 363 days to shop.)

“To me, it truly shows the American greed that is so disgusting in our culture.”

Yeah, what she said.

Ms. Walters and others who have to work on Thanksgiving are made to feel that their families don’t matter that much — at least not as much as other people’s fashion items. To make matters worse, many retail workers this holiday will find themselves being patronized by the same corporate execs who plucked them from their warm turkey- and gravy-scented kitchens and loving families to begin with. Consider this sound bite from J.C. Penney spokesman Joey Thomas, as per the Huffington Post: “In keeping with the spirit of the holiday, we have many exciting activities and giveaways planned to show just how much we appreciate the hard work and dedication of our associates.

“Activities and giveaways include swag bags full of goodies, round-the-clock food to keep associates fueled for delivering excellent customer service, pep rallies to drive excitement and energy through the early morning hours of Black Friday and drawings for fun prizes.”

Spirit of the holiday? Pep rallies?

I once worked for a company — now out of business — that held corporate pep rallies, and I’m here to tell you there’s nothing more degrading than being forced to contrive enthusiasm for work. Even those employees who get swept up in the pep rallies, who trick themselves into rooting for their store’s colors as if they were those of their former high school, are later embarrassed.

Here’s some advice for the CEOs: If you want to get your employees pumped, if you truly care about improving morale, give them the day off on Thanksgiving.

And if not, stop pretending to give a damn about holiday spirit or family traditions.

Michael White is the editor of The Suffolk Times and Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at [email protected] or 631-354-8045.