Thoughts on Retail Workers Working on Thanksgiving from an Ex-Retail Worker

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Long ago, I worked in retail. I worked at a large family owned chain here in Ohio called Meijer. Unlike other stores, they are open 364 days a year for 24 hours a day closing only on Christmas. Some retail has always been open on Thanksgiving. The rest of world is changing, and it’s ok.

For those who are unfamiliar with Meijer, they are the pioneers of the super store concept. You can buy milk, a pair of jeans and a new laptop all in the same store. In today’s world, this is common place in big box stores like Walmart. However, Meijer opened their first “Thrifty Acres” store in 1962, and at that time nobody did this. In the late 80’s that they decided to stay open 24 hours a day including Thanksgiving. I worked for the chain twice during the 90’s. Once I was a bakery clerk, and the second time I was a cashier. In both cases, the stores remained open on Thanksgiving Day. I have had to work MANY Thanksgiving days in that time period. Thankfully, in my first stint, my boss was understanding since I was in Ohio and my family (at the time) was in Pennsylvania.  However, it was in my second stint as a cashier that I worked MANY Thanksgivings. So the concept of working on Thanksgiving day is not alien to me, and many have done it for years.

So recently, the media has been making a big thing of stores like Target, Best Buy, and even malls being open on Thanksgiving day. The media has pumped this up to such levels that a congressmen here in Ohio has suggested making a law that companies must pay workers triple the pay on Thanksgiving. Now as an ex-retail worker, this does kind of appeal to me … until I looked at the times I actually worked Thanksgiving.

First, retail workers are almost ALWAYS paid hourly. Sometimes you get extra hours on the holiday. For this reason, I already got paid more during the holidays than any other week, simply because I put in a lot of hours! I also got holiday pay, too. I really looked forward to the bigger check I would already be getting for these periods; my check was already double to triple the usual amount in those weeks.

Second, if the store is under a union contract, like the Meijer stores I worked at, you were already getting extra pay because you were working on the holiday, and that is typical in other union stores as well.

Third, there are many workers who work EVERY holiday including Christmas. These are people like doctors, paramedics, police, gas station attendants, grocery stores, sysadmins, clergy (in some cases) and, most importantly, our military. They don’t get extra pay.  It’s just known that they will have to work. Sure, not EVERY one of these people work on the holiday, but most do. It is their dedication that I love.  I love being able to get gas as I go to my holiday events, and I am sure those “disrespectful” heart attack patients like living as well.

Finally, from my perspective as an ex-retail worker, once I actually got on-site and started working, I really appreciated being able to work those days.  Why is this? The reasons are many.  One was the holiday pay. Another reason was the fact that the store really treated us well on that day; they would put together a meal for all shifts which was VERY appreciated especially when I was in college. Lastly, everyone I met on that day at the register was extremely nice and appreciative that we were open. We made it possible for people to grab that missed item that would make their feast a success, be it a missing bottle of wine, a can of evaporated milk for the pumpkin pie, or even milk for the mashed potatoes. The evenings would of course pick up, and while we were busy, it was actually one of the most fun days to work to me. I know not everyone enjoyed working on the holiday, and I would also gripe about it occasionally, but in hindsight I appreciated being there for the people who needed us the most. While I did miss my family, I felt good to be there for the customer. My time in retail has passed, and my life has changed; so would I go work retail now?  Not on your life.  However, if I had to, I would do it again because I really liked being there for people.

So do I think that it’s wrong for stores to open on Thanksgiving? In a word, no. So why do I say no? I look at it in two ways. First, this year has more stores that have hours on Thanksgiving than any Thanksgiving past. Many are trying it for the first time. If the customers think it’s a good idea, they will go!  If you don’t like it, and there are enough people who think like you do, then the stores won’t open on the holiday next year. However, if they make a large amount of sales on the holiday, then rest assured it will happen next year and the year after that … and then Thanksgiving will be just like every other holiday except perhaps Christmas. I know of many families that as a family plan their Black Friday and Thanksgiving day shopping.  Many make an event of it, and they’ll plan on shopping and spending all day together.  So, in a way, these stores help them to spend time together as a family. Is it ideal time together as a family?  Certainly not, but it makes them happy so who am I to judge? I, will not be shopping on Thanksgiving, but that’s MY choice. Do I feel sorry for those workers?  Some of them.  However I bet there are many who are just grateful and thankful to HAVE a job.

Working retail is a choice, just like being a first responder or other worker that must work the holiday.  If you don’t want to work a holiday and are looking at working retail, then you are making the wrong choice. If you are working in retail right now, and don’t want to work on the holiday, then you should do your best to get out of it. I was able to get out of it; I know it’s not always easy but it CAN be done. The choice is yours and yours alone.

What do YOU think? Will you be shopping at a store on Thanksgiving or on Black Friday? Are you doing online shopping? Are you boycotting shopping altogether for the holidays? Share below!

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About the Author

Joel McLaughlin
Joel is a consultant in the IT field and is located in Columbus, OH. While he loves Linux and tends to use it more than anything else, he will stoop to running closed source if it is the best tool for the job. His techno passions are Linux, Android, netbooks, GPS, podcasting and Amateur Radio.