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A pandemic silver lining? Most stores will remain closed on Thanksgiving

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"Thanksgiving like the Fourth of July should be a national festival observed by all the people … as an exponent of our republican institutions." So wrote Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, the activist whose half century of lobbying helped create the holiday we're about to celebrate. By "our republican institutions," she did not mean consumer greed and boxing matches.

Yet the Thanksgiving night starting gun to Black Friday has required store employees to abandon the institution of family, as well as their turkey dinners, racing to work to satisfy bargain-hunting doofuses who too often bash each others' heads to snare a Christmas gift. In 2013, the mayhem included a woman firing a stun gun during a Philadelphia "mall brawl." (Nothing says peace on earth, good will to all like a taser jolt.)

Last year, the catastrophe of COVID-19 cancelled the Thanksgiving night start at many stores, as retailers sought to minimize crowd gatherings. Turns out that buyers having to wait until Friday proper to trample each other didn't knock the planet off its axis. This year, major retailers again will put "Closed on Thanksgiving" on their doors. As in closed all day.

Good.

If customers enjoyed not having to schedule their Thanksgiving around a run to the store, imagine the sighs of relief (and morale boost) among employees who got to stay home that night.

The decision by at least 19 firms to lock up on Nov. 25 has been made by a who's who of American retail, including Aldi (the discount grocer I patronize), its corporate cousin Trader Joe's, Best Buy, Costco, Target, and Walmart. We're not accustomed to hearing moral philosophy elucidated by Sam Walton's corporate creation, but Dacona Smith, Walmart's executive vice president and chief operating officer, gave the inarguable rationale:

"Throughout the pandemic, our associates have been nothing short of heroic in how they have stepped up to serve our customers and their communities. Closing our stores on Thanksgiving Day is one way we're saying 'thank you' to our teams for their dedication and hard work this year."

Sure, there's an element of customer-pleasing PR behind the decision. Target's statement noted that on pre-vaccine Thanksgiving 2020, it "closed our stores in order to minimize crowds and help our guests take the stress out of getting the best deals of the season. The response was so positive that we'll carry it forward this year, keeping our Target stores closed all day long on Thanksgiving Day."

If customers enjoyed not having to schedule their Thanksgiving around a run to the store, imagine the sighs of relief (and morale boost) among employees who got to stay home that night. Any businessperson who doesn't care about satisfying customers should find another way to make a living, especially when this bit of customer-pleasing is both an anti-crime and pro-worker policy.

Anti-crime, because of the aforementioned brawling. Historically, gift-giving anchored Christmas's reorientation from a raucous, even violent bacchanal to a family-focused holiday. Black Friday free-for-alls are an atavistic throwback to the yuletide's bad old days. For those modern Americans unable to absorb the Grinch's lesson that Christmas doesn't come from a store, some retailers will stretch Black Friday deals throughout December to compensate sales-seekers deprived of turkey-night opportunity.

... this brutal pandemic is producing tangential benefits for society.

The pro-worker aspect of Thanksgiving closures needs no explanation. A country whose voters just expressed their desire to honor parents' wishes in schools can hardly ignore retailing parents' desires in the home, on an important holiday. Non-parent retail workers deserve to be with families and friends no less.

I recently was drafted to be an unhappy statistic: one among the recent surge of breakthrough COVID cases in Massachusetts. So I don't trivialize the tragedy of the last 20 months. Besides inflicting death and near-death, the virus disrupted the education of millions of children, some of whom may suffer the downsides for life. But from remote work to teachers' improved proficiency with technology to a more humane Thanksgiving, this brutal pandemic is producing tangential benefits for society.

It shouldn't have taken millions dead to realize those benefits. (In the Internet area, managers didn't grasp that many jobs could be done from home?) But they are benefits nonetheless, starting with a Happy Thanksgiving for more of the nation's workforce.

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