Big-money department stores are opening earlier this Thanksgiving to meet what they call “customer demand” for special sales on hot holiday items. But due to Massachusetts laws, shoppers will have to wait a day to reap the rewards of lowered prices—something most don’t mind, but others say needs to change.
According to Massachusetts General Law, certain holidays—like Thanksgiving— restrict the type of work that may be performed as well as the kind of business, and commercial activities that may remain open.
Called “Legal Holidays,” these so-called blue laws in the Bay State prevent shoppers from crowding stores during a time when employees say they should be able to spend time with family.
In California, a Target employee recently launched a campaign (that later went viral) to keep the mega-chain from making its workers come in early to appease consumer-hungry customer demands.
“I have worked at Target for six years and I really enjoy my job. Thanksgiving, though, is one of the three days us retail workers get off a year; a day most all of us spend with family we only get to see on that day,” C. Renee wrote on the petition. “I have no problem with Black Friday. I thought it was interesting the first year I worked the 4 a.m. opening. Last year’s opening at midnight was pushing it.”
This year, on Thanksgiving Day, places like Target and Walmart are opening at 9 p.m. to increase sales—but not in Massachusetts.
“A Massachusetts state law prohibits our stores from being open and team members from working on Thanksgiving,” said Molly Snyder, a communications manager for Target. “To comply with this law, while still delivering the Black Friday shopping experience our guests want, we will delay our Black Friday opening time to 1 a.m. for stores in Massachusetts.”
Snyder said she appreciates the support of Target staff in other states, who will be forced to come in a 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving.
Massachusetts is just one of three states that allows stores to open on Thanksgiving Day, along with Rhode Island and Maine.
Shoppers in Massachusetts who can’t wait until Black Friday—when buyers line up overnight outside stores to ensure they get the best deals—can jump ship and travel to New Hampshire if they are eager to pick up holiday gifts. Otherwise, they will have to wait until the shopping mania begins at 1 a.m. Friday.
But according to Bill Rennie, vice president of the Massachusetts Retailers Association, while Massachusetts may lose some business to bordering states on legal holidays like Thanksgiving, shops he deals with aren’t “clamoring” to open on the family-centric holiday anyways
“We really don’t hear an outcry from our members,” said Rennie, adding, however, that the consideration of opening on Thanksgiving has sparked some conversation.
“It started becoming a topic of discussion, and our position is, clearly, maybe there is an interest in having a policy discussion involved with the blue laws,” he said.
Rennie said if laws were changed in the Bay State, it could be up to retailers whether or not they would open doors, which would help keep sales local.
“They wouldn’t if there was no interest from Massachusetts consumers and shoppers,” he said.
Rennie said not only do they battle with bordering states to make sales on Thanksgiving, though. Technology is also an issue.
“We compete with online retailers who are open seven days a week, 365 days a year,” he said, “So it’s not as if we are preventing people from shopping. We are just preventing them from shopping in stores here in Massachusetts.”
The battle with online sales is something that Bay State coalitions have been battling for years.
In an economic impact report released Tuesday by members of the Massachusetts Main Street Fairness Coalition, a mash-up of retailers, elected officials, and business associations, the group detailed the “adverse impact” that an online sales tax loophole is having on local shops and state funds.
According to the report, in 2011, Massachusetts lost 1,970 new jobs, $280 million in sales to local businesses, and $387 million in state tax revenue due to the “loophole” that allows online retailers like Amazon.com to dodge charging customers sale tax.
“This is a valuable study that shows the consequences, in terms of lost jobs and revenues, of a policy that is unfair and badly out of date,” said Michael J. Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. “As online sales continue to grow, the costs to the Commonwealth will only get greater and greater over time.”
Governor Deval Patrick recently said he has been working with Amazon.com, who has a physical presence in two Massachusetts towns, to discuss implementing the 6.25% sales tax for online sales.
“I’m not ready to announce anything yet but we’re not so far away,” Patrick said this week.