Earlier Bellingham store openings bump into traditional Thanksgiving dinner

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 24, 2013 

BlackFridayPreview

Josh Duggan stocks basketballs at the Sports Authority at Bellis Fair Mall in Bellingham, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013. The store plans to open on Thanksgiving Day at 6pm for holiday shoppers.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

As retailers continue the trend of earlier openings for holiday sales, maybe Thanksgiving lunch rather than dinner will become the family tradition.

Whatcom County shoppers will once again need to adjust their holiday plans if they want to catch the beginning of the sales. Many large retailers in Bellingham plan to open between 6 and 9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 28, threatening to toss the phrase "Black Friday" into the dust bin of formerly relevant phrases.

It was just four years ago when early morning on Friday was the kickoff time for holiday sales in Whatcom County. That crept to midnight openings and now, Thursday evening.

Starting the sales on Thanksgiving has hit a nerve for some residents. When asked if they would shop on Thanksgiving, nearly 50 people on The Bellingham Herald Facebook page said "no," with many noting that retail employees shouldn't be forced to work that day, while others say the day should be set aside for spending time with family and friends.

"This new practice is particularly insidious in that so many retail employees are women - the ones most often responsible for the brunt of the cooking on Thanksgiving. Now they get to have their dinner early so they can excuse themselves from the table and comfort of their families, put on their coat and go to work," Bellingham resident said Mike Hogen in an email.

Plus, the earlier openings are altering what made Black Friday special, said Bellingham resident Deanna Kangas.

"I don't enjoy Black Friday shopping, but I know many who do. We are so good at killing the factor of anticipation. Retailers should wait until it is Friday to open. Let it remain the exciting shopping day that it always has been for those who enjoy that sort of thing," she said in a Facebook post.

Sales numbers tell a different story to retailers. Last year, when a few big-box chains switched to 8 and 9 p.m. Thanksgiving openings, they were rewarded with strong sales as consumers appeared fine with heading out to the stores while Thanksgiving dishes were being put away. Other stores, under pressure to make sure they don't lose initial sales, try to open even earlier.

"We've seen this coming for a few years now," said Dev Shapiro, a spokesman for gottadeal.com, a website that collects store sales information, including leaked Black Friday ads, and has message boards for people to discuss shopping trends. "I think it's a trend that will continue because retailers have to compete with online sites."

Thursday evening openings in Whatcom County might make it even more attractive to Canadians, who celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October and don't generally have the day off. With the early Friday morning openings of previous years, British Columbians were faced with taking the day off from work on Black Friday to shop in the U.S. This year, many of them can swing into Whatcom County after work Thursday, do some shopping and get back in plenty of time to work on Friday.

Shapiro noted that if the trend continues toward earlier openings, Thanksgiving could become what he considers a "mattress holiday," like Columbus Day or President's Day, which are known for commercials from bed stores. It's possible that Thanksgiving could become more known for the sales than for the traditions, he said.

But not yet. A national survey indicates that Friday still will be the busiest of the four-day stretch.

The National Retail Federation survey estimates 140 million people plan to do some holiday shopping between Thursday and Sunday, with about 97 million shopping on Black Friday. About 33 million plan to shop on Thanksgiving.

The Thanksgiving Day openings are not dreaded by all retail workers, particularly because many receive extra holiday pay.

Bellingham resident Christine Rinard plans to work at a retail store that day, and pointed out that many other people - including firefighters, police officers, airport personnel and restaurant staff - will be working that day.

"Decide to not shop for your own reasons, but don't feel bad for all retail workers. Some of us love what we do every day of the year, it just gets taken up a notch once in a while," Rinard said in a Facebook post.

Jeff Robertson, manager at the Bellingham Sports Authority store at Bellis Fair, has a similar perspective as Rinard, adding that customers tell him they want the store to be open. The Bellingham store originally considered opening at midnight but decided to open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, with the first 80 customers receiving scratch-off gift cards, one of which is worth $500. A second card giveaway is planned for 6 a.m. Friday, Nov. 29.

Robertson said that when he started in retail 19 years ago, it would have been a shock to see a Thanksgiving opening. Now it has become more of the norm.

"(Working during the holidays) is a part of working in retail, like a pilot or a waitress," he said, adding that he adjusts by having a nice brunch with his family rather than Thanksgiving dinner.

WHAT'S HOT THIS SEASON

Shoppers should see good deals for mobile devices, tablets and laptop computers during the Thanksgiving/Black Friday sales, according to Shapiro.

He said a growing trend is retailers pushing more household goods this year, so expect hot prices on things like pots and pans. The popularity of household goods is a reflection of the economy still getting back on track, with people looking for deals beyond traditional gift items.

"Regular household goods are becoming a normal part of Black Friday sales," he said.

At Bellingham Sports Authority, Robertson expects bikes and clothing, both with significant discounts, to do well through the weekend. He said the store is off to a good start since opening in the former Sears space at Bellis Fair in August. Sales to Canadian shoppers are particularly strong in the first three months, he said.

When it comes to gifts, the rise in computer tablets and mobile devices has created a lot of forum discussions from parents on what's age-appropriate.

"Parents want their children to use technology to further their education, but they are cautious, particularly when it comes to games or going online," he said.

As for the advice, the most common piece Shapiro is giving out is do your research beforehand, whether it's to figure out the openings or when is the right time to buy.

"Just because it's Black Friday doesn't necessarily mean it will be the best price," Shapiro said. One example is televisions, which will be on sale up through Super Bowl weekend.

With all of the different opening times Thursday and Friday, Shapiro said it will be interesting to see how shoppers react.

"(Retailers) are really pushing the envelope this year," he said. "I think some shoppers will be a little stunned."

THANKSGIVING/BLACK FRIDAY OPENINGS

Here is when stores first open for Thanksgiving or Black Friday sales in Bellingham. Some businesses might change their opening times, so see store websites or the Nov. 28 newspaper ad circulars to double-check.

Thursday, Nov. 28:

6 a.m. Kmart.

7 a.m. Big Lots! (open until 9 p.m.).

4 p.m. Michaels (open 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.).

6 p.m. Best Buy, Walmart, Sports Authority.

7 p.m. Sears Hometown Store (open until midnight).

7:30 p.m. The main doors at Bellis Fair open for a handful of retailers that plan 8 p.m. openings, including Gap, Old Navy, Rue 21, Romy, and Spencer's.

8 p.m. Target, JC Penney, Kohl's, Office Depot, OfficeMax (open until 2 a.m.)

Midnight: Official opening of Bellis Fair. Macy's also opens then.

Friday, Nov. 29

5 a.m. Fred Meyer, Lowe's, DeWaard & Bode.

6 a.m. Jo-Ann Fabrics, Bed Bath & Beyond, Guitar Center.

7 a.m. Harbor Freight Tools, PetSmart, Rite Aid.

8 a.m. Judd & Black, with doorbuster sale until 10 a.m.

FAIRHAVEN TREE LIGHTING

Fairhaven holds an afternoon-focused holiday festival on Black Friday. Santa and Mrs. Claus will greet visitors from 3 to 4:45 p.m. in the gazebo at Harris Avenue and 10th Street; bring your camera for photos. The annual tree lighting is 5 p.m. at the Village Green, followed by the Holiday Art Walk until 8 p.m.

Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2269.

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