States ban Thanksgiving shopping

‘Blue laws’ in three states prohibit large stores from being open on the holiday
Associated Press
Nov 27, 2013
Shoppers won’t be lining up for Thanksgiving Day deals at stores in Rhode Island, Maine and Massachusetts. They can’t.

It’s the legacy of so-called “blue laws,” which prohibit large supermarkets, big box stores and department stores from opening on Thanksgiving. Some business groups complain, but many shoppers, workers and even retailers say they’re satisfied with a one-day reprieve from work and holiday shopping.

Read a Sandusky Register blog about shopping on Thanksgiving

Some business groups complain it’s an unnecessary barrier during an era of 24-hour online shopping, and there have been some recent failed legislative attempts to change things. But many shoppers, workers and even retailers say they’re satisfied with the status quo: a one-day reprieve from work and holiday shopping.

“I shop all year. People need to be with their families on Thanksgiving,” said Debra Wall, of Pawtucket, R.I., who will remainquite happily at home Thursday, cooking a meal for 10.

The holiday shopping frenzy has crept deeper than ever into Thanksgiving this year. Macy’s, JCPenney and Staples will open on Thanksgiving for the first time. Toys R Us will open at 5 p.m., and Walmart, already open 24 hours in many locations, will start holiday deals at 6 p.m., two hours earlier than last year. In recent years, some retail employees and their supporters have started online petitions to protest stores that open on Thanksgiving — but shoppers keep coming.

Bill Rennie, vice president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said many shoppers are crossing into border states that allow Thanksgiving shopping, including Connecticut, Vermont, New York or New Hampshire, which is even more alluring because it doesn’t have a sales tax.

“Why not give stores in Massachusetts the option?” he said.

The group has backed legislation, which has so far gone nowhere, to roll back the laws and allow stores to open on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

That would include grocery stores, which also must stay closed on the holidays. Woe to the Massachusetts cook who forgets a crucial ingredient or messes up the turkey and is forced to find a replacement at a convenience store. Convenience stores are allowed to open, as are movie theaters, pharmacies, restaurants and some other businesses.

The laws do not prohibit stores from opening at non-traditional hours Friday, and some will open at midnight or 1 a.m., when holiday deals will start.

Blue laws were once widespread throughout the country and are thought to date back to Colonial times, although some of the current regulations in Maine were instituted in the 1960s. The name may be derived from an 18th-century usage of blue meaning “rigidly moral,” according to the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

The rules vary among the states. Retailers smaller than 5,000 square feet can operate in Maine, for example.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are the main holidays affected in all three states, but in Massachusetts, blue laws also prohibit stores from opening on the mornings of Columbus and Veterans Day without state permission. Easter and New Year’s Day are also sometimes included.

Rhode Island lawmakers have in recent years rolled back blue law prohibitions on Sunday sales of alcohol and cars, but the Thanksgiving ban remains. Maine lawmakers shot down legislation this year that would have allowed stores to open on the holiday.

Law enforcement officials in all three states said there had been no recent incidents they could recall of retailers breaking the law. In 2005, Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly sent a warning letter to upscale grocery chain Whole Foods after a competitor discovered it was planning to open on Thanksgiving. In Maine, a violation is punishable by up to six months in prison and a $1,000 fine.

Maine allows certain sporting goods stores to remain open, an exemption that allows Freeport-based outdoor retailer L.L. Bean to operate 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. Spokeswoman Carolyn Beem said workers sign up for shifts on a volunteer basis and get paid extra for working the holiday. She said they generally have more volunteers than shifts on what she calls a generally slower business day.

But along the New Hampshire border, the Kittery Trading Post in Kittery, Maine, will remain closed, even though it could operate under the same exemption, said vice president Fox Keim. He said giving employees the day off is part of the store’s “core values.”

“What’s more important to us is keeping our staff happy and keeping morale at the company at a high level,” he said.

Diane Mareira, who has worked for BJ’s Wholesale Club for 29 years and now manages its store in Northborough, Mass., said she remembers the days when people spent Sundays home with their families, but said that has all changed. BJ’s, which operates stores in 15 states, won’t open until Friday, even in states that allow it.

“You have both parents working in the household. There’s very few days that you can set aside and dedicate to your families,” Mareira said. “Those are days that we should be home.”

Mareira said she’s planning to do just that on Thursday. She’ll have her extended family over to cook, eat and enjoy the day with each other.

Comments

Nemesis

Ideologically, you have a lot in common with 4shizzle. If you don't like being broadbrushed in with 4shizzle, maybe you should not broadbrush all those whose point of view differs from yours as you do in that second paragraph. It's no fun being hoist on your own petard, eh?

tk

Businesses closing for one day isn't going to bankrupt them. If people know stores are going to be closed, they will purchase what they need before hand. Other shopping they will do afterward. Remember when our stores were closed on Sunday and in the evenings? Somehow we managed to survive.

formeremployee

I don't disagree, my problem is with the government telling the stores they have to close.

The Big Dog's back

The "Gov" is the people!

Unassumer

not since about 1991. patriot act.

Unassumer

When greed overcomes employee rights and/or privileges (like holidays) then the government should step in.

Contango

Re: "When greed overcomes employee rights and/or privileges (like holidays) then the government should step in."

So if someone wants to work on a holiday like Christmas or Easter, because they don't observe it and they could also use the money, the govt. should force them not to?

KURTje

If you don't like it live in Alabama. They probably don't have those "rules."

Nemesis

They are actually more likely to have them.

No Wake

I may not work a retail job, but I don't see myself as above someone who does. I understand that if I were to go out shopping on a holiday it would necessitate the service of retail employees. Considering the economy being in such a state where a large number of people would take any job no matter how abusive or poorly paying it's obvious the people who work these days are by and large there because they're stuck between a rock and a hard place rather than because they don't mind working holidays. This is incredibly exploitative and I try not contribute. I understand some occupations may require it as part of the job (I will be in a lab tomorrow to check on a high pressure reactor), but retail is not one of those and the only reason it's a thing is because of everyone that goes.

Nemesis

That's fine - don't shop at stores that stay open that day. However, it's not our place to tell people they have to stay closed because we happen to hold one day as important.

Blue laws continually fall to First Amendment challenges. Odds are the only reason some store hasn't filed such a challenge in this instance is the public relations fallout isn't worth it.

OSUBuckeye59

Blue laws continually fall to 1st Amendment challenges? I didn't know that, but I am surprised as the 1st Amendment reads, “Congress Shall Make No Law Respecting an Establishment of Religion, or Prohibiting the Free Exercise Thereof; or Abridging the Freedom of Speech, or of the Press; or the Right of the People Peaceably to Assemble, and To Petition the Government for a Redress of Grievances.” I'm not a legal scholar, but it seems odd to me reading the text of the 1st amendment that a retail establishment prohibited from opening on certain days could challenge that under the 1st amendment.

I'm also surprised any one of the big supermarkets, big box or department stores haven't yet challenged the laws. I can see where residents in any of the 3 states living close to a neighboring state border, especially little Rhode Island, would see traveling across state lines as an inconvenience whereas residents of western MA or upstate ME, far from a neighboring state border, could be irritated they have to wait until Black Friday to shop. Then again, all it's really doing is delaying shopping in those states until midnight.

And I have to believe this whole "shop on Thanksgiving" idea was the brain-child of some exec who thought they would be first to do it and thus pull shoppers from other stores that didn't open until the next morning. 'Course now EVERYBODY has to open on Thanksgiving night lest they lose even $1 to the competition.

Nemesis

"but it seems odd to me reading the text of the 1st amendment that a retail establishment prohibited from opening on certain days could challenge that under the 1st amendment."

Consider for a moment how the "certain days" are chosen - based on religious beliefs. The most common "certain day" is Sunday, which is just another day of the week except for Christians defining it as a quasi-sabbath.

Go look up the origin of the word 'holiday' and things will become more clear.

As for why they haven't challenged it, there are already groups seeking to boycott stores that open on Thanksgiving. It's one thing to open, but to put one's company in the news as the single named plaintiff in such a case would likely cost more business than opening on Thanksgiving could ever bring in.

OSUBuckeye59

I knew about the Sunday religious connection, but Thanksgiving is on a Thursday and doesn't have any religious holiday context to it, thus I still don't see how the blue laws prohibiting retail sales on Thanksgiving could be argued.

One more thing about a big box retailer/grocer/whatever store challenging is they don't need to. Internet sales continue to grow and if enough people get so frustrated by the long waits on either Thanksgiving evening or Black Friday, they might just opt to buy online to get a 40% discount vs. waiting in line for 2+ hours for a 50% discount. At some point a $30 pair of regularly-priced jeans at Old Navy won't be worth the gas and time spent to get them for $15 vs. $18.

Nemesis

Ask yourself, on Thanksgiving, to whom does an atheist give thanks? There are religions that do not celebrate Thanksgiving as well - why should their adherants be forced to honor it?

You're right, though, that this race to be first is self defeating. Once they push it up to normal closing time on the day before Thanksgiving the whole concept falls apart and it's all just another normal shopping day.

I do all my Christmas shopping on Amazon, using Amazon gift cards purchased at Giant Eagle during their double fuel perks promotion.

Contango

Just think, billions of Asians, Europeans and residents of other Western Hemisphere countries are currently working or have worked on Thankgsgiving (Nov. 28).

Where's the justice?

A Young Adult's...

Working on holidays is part of the job in the retail industry. If an employee doesn't like it, find another job.

Dr. Information

The gov should not tell stores they have to close up. Im sure you people wouldnt complain if hospitals just decided to take the day off also?

Pterocarya frax...

Huh?

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