A Foul Thanksgiving for Retail Workers


This year, my son announced that he will not be with us for Thanksgiving. He needs to work a ten hour shift that begins at eight p.m. on Thanksgiving. So he'll be sleeping in preparation.

I should have seen this coming after I met two saleswomen in another major department store who told me their story. That day, I could not find an open register at which to pay. The two women explained that they weren't understaffed. The salespeople were revamped to prepare Christmas decorations. It was mid-October. That conversation funneled into one about Thanksgiving. "Our store is opening at eight p.m.," one said. "We are all so unhappy." And this year, Thanksgiving is also Chanukah. Good job.

It seemed the removal of Thanksgiving began, like taking candy from a baby, over a three-year period. Each year, the opening of stores cut closer to dinnertime, and those who paid attention, began to feel consumerism muscle into the meal because of the earlier store openings.

2010: "No thanks, can't drink wine. I have to be in at four a.m."

2011: "No desert for me, thanks. I have to be in at midnight. No time to digest all that."

2012: "Nah, better pass on the cauliflower and the sweet potatoes. Got to be in at ten -- won't have time to burp."

For 2013, it's official for many retail workers: No Thanksgiving holiday for you!

I watched a documentary on Netflix Instant Watch named "Happy." It's purpose was to reveal what people around the world believe is the secret sauce for happiness. I assure you that working holidays and experiencing less of their loved ones was not an ingredient. Click here for The  Happy Movie trailer. It can be rented on your computer for 2.99, if you don't have Netflix. It's delightful and is worth paying for, in my opinion. I'll try not to blow any of the surprises in this post, like the part about where to live to experience leadership whose priority is it's people: Gross National Happiness. (Please don't relocate.)

I worked in retail for six years, through 2012. We were a high-end gift business located in the mall. The innovation was exciting and customers often said they purchased products from me because of my enthusiasm.

The best part of working in the days that led up to events or holidays was helping others check off their list of gifts with something that they felt proud to give. I know that sounds totally dorky, but it made me happy. If I was given something to sell that I believed in and that wouldn't break when a customer got it home, I was in. On the other hand, it was awkward to steer away from attractive products that, well, sucked.

The first (and only) year I left Thanksgiving dinner to go to work was when the managing partner of a seasonal store asked for my help for "Midnight Madness," which occurred at midnight on Thanksgiving at Tanger Outlets. "Come on, we'll have a lot of fun," she said. With Black Friday plucking retail managers and associates out of our beds, bearing tryptophan hangovers for a four a.m. opening, there wasn't much difference, right?


Newly promoted, I was going to prove my worth, my moxie, like a ballerina determined to go nine rounds in the ring with Apollo Creed. I'd been mentally preparing myself for the experience of Christmas in my new position. Christmas... a season that only a few years back, was a time of tranquility and reflection. But, heck, I was paid to do a job now. And the manager had promised that it would be cheery fun. (You mean three acres and a mule?!)

Doesn't this all define synergy?

I looked at my sons and husband as I prepared to leave our aunt's house that night. Wasn't I something? Wasn't I sacrificing for a great cause? The in-laws kissed me goodbye, wearing that crooked smile that says: "Geez. It sucks to be you."

I arrived at the seasonal store, high octane chai tea latte in hand, and felt ridiculous. I was like the traveler who'd just paid a fortune to enter a tourist trap. It was going to be like any other day at work, except worse because of what I'd left behind. Most stragglers that drifted in early were burping turkey and acting tipsy. They were looking for the big giveaway, of which there was none.

Our store was not the main feature to the outlets by a long shot. Most people stood on long lines in the cold, waiting for a deal in another store. Our company ran specials, but it was the same bargains available for every day for the rest of the week, which is why it's senseless to have a Thanksgiving Day sale. Why ruin Thanksgiving? But I'm ahead of myself.

I went to bed the morning after Thanksgiving, feeling pretty lousy about myself. I'd swapped an experience of family for some infernal competition, not even for profit, like normal people!

Now that many retailers have elected to remove Thanksgiving from the calendar for workers, I wonder if it can be undone. Is it possible that this experience will result in helping us to articulate what had value that is being lost?

For many, Thanksgiving marks the start of the season of good will. But without the experience of family and friends, shopping in the few weeks that follow feels as purposeful as a ballerina doing nine rounds in the ring with Apollo Creed.

Why not move the Black Friday specials to another day?  Restore Thanksgiving.