Giving Thanks for Stores that Open on Thanksgiving

It’s that time of year again. Thanksgiving is upon us. Tomorrow, millions of us will join together with friends and family to celebrate the Holiday. The day after, “Black Friday,” kicks off the holiday shopping season with a variety of sales.

Once again, these sales are bringing controversy with them. It’s not the fact that these sales are taking place, but when.

Every year we see the same uproar surrounding Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales. That is, many stores are opening on Thanksgiving Day as part of their holiday promotions. Many individuals take issue with these policies, arguing that opening stores on Thanksgiving corrupts a holiday that’s all about spending time with family and friends.

In particular, we see that many people claim its wrong for retailers to “force” workers to come in on the holiday. Last year, I discussed how some lawmakers have even suggested a ban on retail sales Thanksgiving Day, claiming such laws would protect workers from their profit-hungry employers.

While it’s understandable that many people want to spend their holiday with loved ones, banning stores from operating on Thanksgiving is a bad idea for employers and employees alike.

First, it’s important to understand why retailers choose to operate on Thanksgiving Day. They do so because their consumers demand it. By catering to what consumers desire, companies look to profit.

But what about our poor worker? Many people don’t really care about the well-being of the individuals who run companies. They claim to be worker advocates. Certainly, those working on Thanksgiving are being exploited by their cruel employers?

While working on Thanksgiving may not be a worker’s first choice, it’s hardly akin to Bob Cratchit working for Ebenezer Scrooge. Not only are workers paid for their time, but many will earn extra wages because they are working on a federal holiday (when I worked retail it was 1.5x).

For some people, working on Thanksgiving may be an absolute blessing. The chance to earn extra money for holiday shopping or bills provides many people with much needed income. Taking away the opportunity to work on Thanksgiving is like pulling money out of people’s pockets. If someone is unable to be with family or friends for the holiday, working may be strongly preferred to a day at home on the couch. Everyone knows at least one person who thinks of spending time with his or her extended family as a special layer of Hell. For these people, having the option to work can be a saving grace. “Sorry, Uncle Lester, I’d love to hear about your trip to the lake for the 900th time, but I have to work.”

Many of us choose to use Thanksgiving for spending quality time with friends and family. Without a doubt, there are some people who will work tomorrow that may prefer to be at home. But banning retailers from opening on Thanksgiving may do more harm than good. Workers, stores, and consumers all lose.

There is another important point to consider for those of us who value liberty. That is, forcing stores to close on Thanksgiving (or any other day for that matter), is nothing more than imposing our preferences on other people. Forcing stores to close on Thanksgiving because it cuts against some peoples’ ideals of “family time” is no different than laws that currently prohibit selling alcohol on Sundays in a variety of states. We’d say such laws infringe upon our rights as consumers and the rights of sellers and we’d be right. Complaining about stores opening on Thanksgiving is fundamentally the same.

Abigail R. Hall is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and an Associate Professor of Economics at Sykes College of Business at the University of Tampa.
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