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Some retailers giving Thanksgiving back to families, employees

SALT LAKE CITY — Although plenty of stores are still opening their doors for anxious shoppers on Thanksgiving Day, more retailers are deciding to give the day back to families.

National chains such as Costco, Dillard's and Nordstrom are among the growing number of stores choosing to be closed on Turkey Day. Nationally, the Mall of America in Minnesota announced it will be closed on Thanksgiving, a move that reverberated across the retail landscape.

CBL & Associates announced last month it was closing 72 of its malls on Thanksgiving — including Utah's Layton Hills Mall. Another of the state's largest shopping centers, City Creek Center, will also be closed Thanksgiving Day, although one of its anchor tenants, Macy's, will be open for the holiday.

"One of the interesting things about this issue is that you have a number of retailers who are promoting that they will not be open so people can spend time with their families, which is great," said City Creek Center general manager Linda Wardell. "But then you have retailers who are opening on Thanksgiving and having superior results.

"Clearly, there are people who enjoy coming out to shop and kicking off the holiday season either late on Thanksgiving or very early in the morning on Black Friday," she said.

But according to a survey conducted last month for BestBlackFriday.com, only 18 percent of Americans favor stores being open on Thanksgiving Day. Nearly 55 percent said they don't like stores open on the holiday, with 27 percent saying they are indifferent about the practice, the poll found.

And for the second year in a row, one national retailer is taking that trend to close on Thanksgiving one step further. Not only is REI closed on Thursday, it will also be closed on Black Friday, forgoing millions in revenue in the spirit of anti-consumerism and pro-family time.

Recreational Equipment Inc. is giving all 12,000 of its employees the day off on Black Friday and closing all 145 of its stores nationwide, with the aim of staying true to its most treasured values.

"It's always felt like a 'greedy' holiday to us who worked here," said Sandy REI store manager Tuesday Roby. "We wanted to do something different that felt the very opposite of that — 'ungreedy' is my word for it."

She said the company is promoting a campaign called #OptOutside where employees are encouraged to spend the day doing something enjoyable in the great outdoors. She added that closing, enjoying the outside and paying the employees "is like the most core-value thing REI could have done."

"It felt the most authentic last year when we did it for the first time," Roby said, adding that Black Friday has always been a moneymaker for the retailer, but "it just didn't feel good."

"We were just piggybacking on this thing (consumerism) that doesn't really align with our goals," she said.

Roby noted that last year 170 organizations joined REI in their #OptOutside campaign, with the number increasing to more than 400 this year, including automaker Subaru — which is encouraging outdoor enthusiasts to get outside with their dogs.

The decision also is going over well with the company's employees, who appreciate the opportunity to enjoy quality time with loved ones during one of the year's biggest holiday periods.

"It means a lot to me to spend time with my family doing what I love," said Zack Johnston, a sales associate at the Sandy REI store. "Working retail, I've had to work many (holidays). This year I'm probably going to go camping with my dad instead.

"By giving us the day off, it feels like the company is putting us first before the money," he added.

Wardell said both "camps" who enjoy shopping on either Thanksgiving Day or Black Friday are supporting divergent, but evidently popular family-oriented trends.

She said that REI's campaign touts the company's effort to promote "brand authenticity" and brand alignment. On the other hand, a number of retailers are taking a different approach.

"Quite possibly, they'll be inspired by what REI is doing," she added. "One of great things about retail is that it is always evolving and changing."

Among the stores BestBlackFriday.com says will be closed on Thanksgiving Day are: AT&T, Barnes and Noble, select locations of Bed Bath and Beyond, Burlington, Cabela's, Crate and Barrel, GameStop, Guitar Center, Hobby Lobby, Home Depot, HomeGoods, IKEA, Jo-Ann Fabric & Craft Stores, Lowe's, Marshall's, Mattress Firm, Nordstrom Rack, Office Depot, Office Max, Petco, PetSmart, Pier 1 Imports, Sam's Club, Staples, the Container Store, T.J. Maxx and more.

Email: jlee@deseretnews.com

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