(Most) Stores Are Closed on Thanksgiving. Thank the Great Resignation.

Heather Long / The Washington Post
(Most) Stores Are Closed on Thanksgiving. Thank the Great Resignation. People wait in line for a Black Friday sale at a Best Buy store in Overland Park, Kan., on Nov. 23, 2017. (photo: Charlie Riedel/AP)

One of the worst ideas U.S. retailers ever had was to open stores on Thanksgiving Day. In the 2010s, retailers started unlocking their doors earlier and earlier — at midnight, at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, then in the afternoon on Turkey Day, ripping workers and customers away from family in an effort to make a bit more money. Almost overnight, a holiday in which Americans ostensibly gave thanks for what they had morphed into one where people trample each other for more stuff at discount.

In 2022, it’s a different story. Most major U.S. retailers will be closed on Thanksgiving Day. Target says this is a permanent change and that it won’t open again on the holiday. Walmart, too. “It’s a thing of the past, we’ll be closed on Thanksgiving,” Walmart U.S. chief executive John Furner said recently.

Why the about-face? Partly, this reflects how the pandemic changed the way people shop. For much of 2020, millions of people didn’t want to go into brick-and-mortar stores, even for a deal. Americans of all ages became expert online shoppers. On top of that, supply-chain drama and delays prompted shoppers to hunt for gifts earlier. The notion of having a make-or-break Black Friday weekend for sales suddenly seemed extremely risky, especially if stores might not have much merchandise in stock. Now, deals typically start earlier and last longer.

“The entire Black Friday weekend has become less impactful,” said Mark Mathews, the National Retail Federation’s vice president of research development and industry analysis. “There’s also been a change in mind-set from consumers to, ‘I’m going to get those deals, even if I don’t go out on Black Friday.’ ”

The other driving force is the “Great Resignation,” perhaps better described as the Great Reassessment of Work. Retailers can’t find enough employees to open on Thanksgiving, and they don’t want to risk a mass resignation by forcing people to work that day.

Job-quitting hit an all-time high last holiday season. A record 5 percent of the retail workforce walked out last December alone. It was easy to get a higher-paying job elsewhere. But it wasn’t just about the pay. Workers who quit often say it was because they were tired of being mistreated. The pandemic made people decide it wasn’t worth sacrificing time with family or the cost to their physical and mental health to be yelled at by customers, demeaned by bosses and ordered into work on what was supposed to be their day off. Retailers responded by increasing pay — and by closing stores earlier and giving days such as Thanksgiving off. (Many hospital and emergency personnel will still be working, but that’s different from optional activities such as retail.)

Amparo Rojas worked at Walmart for more than 20 years as a manager in the baby department. She enjoyed the job, except around Black Friday. For years, her family had to eat Thanksgiving “dinner” at lunchtime so she could report to work that Thursday afternoon. And the notorious sales brought out the worst in shoppers.

“People were throwing things in my face if we didn’t have the right color. Or they would yell, ‘You don’t know what you’re doing,’ if they couldn’t find anything,” said Rojas, who is now retired. “We had to just smile. We couldn’t answer back to the customers.”

The few stores still opening on Thanksgiving this year include some pharmacies and supermarkets, discount shops such as Dollar Tree and Dollar General, and outdoor sports stores Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops. None responded to a request for comment about why they plan to open on that special Thursday.

As the economy slows, attention is focusing on when a recession could hit and how high unemployment might go as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates to tame inflation. Workers will inevitably lose some of the leverage they have enjoyed the past two years. Already, the quit rate in retail has fallen significantly (to 3.7 percent a month), and retail job openings have dropped back to closer to pre-pandemic levels.

But a lasting impact of the Great Resignation is that workers aren’t willing to do exactly what they did before. White-collar employees are fighting returns to the office, while many hourly workers seek flexible schedules so they can take time off for health reasons and for family and hobbies.

Workers still exude tremendous power in many industries, as can be seen in high-profile strikes threatening to shut down America’s freight rail just before the holidays and unionization efforts at Starbucks and elsewhere. Workers remain emboldened for now. They often begin their job searches looking for more pay, but then focus on perks, including holidays and flexible hours.

The new normal is not yet fully set. But some changes — such as most retailers closing on Thanksgiving Day — are something we should all be thankful for.

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