Retailers upstage Black Friday by opening doors on holiday

Here’s how the “holiday” went for Abraham Lopez: Open the Fun Loom kiosk at the Las Vegas Premium Outlets North at 9 a.m., get off at 2 p.m. to spend time with the family in Las Vegas, then back to work at midnight until who knows when.

Does that really qualify as Thanksgiving?

“To be honest, it doesn’t bother me,” said Lopez between bites of his takeout breakfast. “I get to spend time with my family. I talk when I’m at home, and I’ll be talking here today.”

He admitted that he still hadn’t figured out when to wedge in some sleep but seemed unconcerned.

“That’s the job. My boss is good to work for, and I like the money,” he said.

People such as Lopez figure prominently in the debate about whether there is such a thing as too much shopping.

Although some chains such as Walmart and Kmart have lit up the cash registers on Thanksgiving for years, old-line department store Macy’s announcement that it would open at 8 p.m rekindled the controversy. As more of the midnight barrier crumbles, one of the two days a year that still looks like a national holiday has started to become just another day to fight for parking and pull out the credit card.

Thanksgiving is increasingly becoming Gray Thursday, the warm-up act for the Black Friday sales extravaganza.

In Las Vegas, commerce won out long ago. Malls such as Premium Outlets, the Forum Shops, the Grand Canal Shoppes and Wynn Las Vegas’ retail corridor have opened on Thanksgiving for years. Since the customer base tilts heavily to tourists, they wouldn’t be spending time at home carving a turkey or watching football, according to the standard line. Why not give them a chance to buy gifts or indulge for themselves.

But away from the tourist zones, Thursday remains mostly dark. Boulevard Mall, for example, reported only four stores would open.

Among those who started Thursday morning with their favorite brands at Las Vegas Premium Outlets North, the opinions split on whether Thanksgiving shopping is a good idea.

“I came out first to exchange some things and then check out the deals,” said Kaylee Martineau of Columbus, Ohio. “Some people don’t have families, and this is a good way to spend the time.”

“As long as we are together, it doesn’t matter whether it is here or at home,” said Sam Tan, who came from Los Angeles with his wife and two kids.

Practical considerations also loomed large for hitting the Premium Outlet stores when they opened.

“I don’t like the crowds on Black Friday, and it’s really crazy to keep track of the kids,” Tan said. “I was glad this was open Thanksgiving Day.”

But some wished they were elsewhere.

“I don’t think we should be shopping Thanksgiving Day,” said Paul Westfall of Orlando, Fla. “I’m here because my dad and my aunt wanted to come out and I’m the junior member of the family.”

Violating a holiday, he added, meant that “others have to work who don’t want to be here.”

However, Claudia Kinney, his aunt who lives in Las Vegas, wanted to buy clothes for Westfall and get the job done without fighting through wall-to-wall people.

“It’s actually calm,” said Angela Panuccio of Phoenix, who included shopping as part of a Las Vegas anniversary celebration with her husband, Mike.

For thousands of foreign nationals, Thursday was not a holiday but a chance to take advantage of prices far cheaper than home. The day at Premium Outlets began with a bus arriving full of Chinese tourists, with a large group of Japanese tourists scheduled for midnight.

However, some foreign nationals did not like the idea of retail incursions into a holiday.

“I am so used to the stores all being closed on holidays that I don’t see the need for them to be open,” said Olav Stein Engebraaten of Norway, at the start of a 10-day vacation.

Thanksgiving in Canada, Las Vegas’ largest source of international visitors, falls in October. Even then, it more closely resembles a regular day than a holiday, but on other holidays, such as Christmas, retail comes to a halt.

Andrea Furlong, from St. John’s, Newfoundland, worked in some shopping during a vacation. However, she said, “If I were American, I wouldn’t be doing it. I think it is important to spend time with your family.”

“If there was a referendum about whether the stores should be closed, my vote would be yes and resoundingly so,” said Lorraine Barry of Calgary, Alberta. “There is more to life than shopping.”

Soraya Yassin of Brazil was just glad for the opportunity to fill her luggage for the return trip.

“We come every year because it is impossible to buy this stuff back home,” she said.

Premium Outlets first experimented with Thanksgiving openings years ago at East Coast mall and found a receptive audience, local marketing director Alexandra Goranson said. The Las Vegas north mall has done it for a decade with tourists in mind, but is careful to place signs in places likely to be seen by locals such as along Interstate 15 and on the sides of RTC buses.

The mall’s leases require retailers to open on Thanksgiving, although a handful kept the doors locked with managers claiming they were doing inventory.

Because of the sales results, the mall will open on Christmas for the first time this year, with a sizable contingent of stores operating from noon to 6 p.m.

Figures from the National Retail Federation back up the growing acceptance of Gray Thursday. Its surveys show that the number of people hitting the malls on Thanksgiving had nearly doubled to 35.4 million in 2012, well behind Black Friday’s 88.9 million but closing fast on the 41.8 million who shop on the Sunday of the holiday weekend.

Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at toreiley@reviewjournal.com or at 702-387-5290.

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