In the not-too-distant future, stores might treat Thanksgiving like any other shopping day. For now, most are holding off until Thanksgiving evening to throw open their doors to hordes of stampeding shoppers.
Although a few of the larger businesses around Minot will remain closed during today's holiday, many are opening around 8 p.m. and staying open all night, not closing again until late in the evening on Black Friday.
Mike Lisagor, general manager of Dakota Square Mall, said they are opening on Thanksgiving for the first time ever this year. Dakota Square opens at 8 p.m. and doesn't close again until 10 p.m. Friday. That doesn't mean all the mall's stores will be open during those specific times, however, or even at all.
A small child hides behind a bench in the Clock Court at Dakota Square Mall Wednesday evening. For the first time in its history, the mall will be open on Thanksgiving this year.
"What we're offering our retailers is kind of an a la carte option. Because the big box retailers are opening at 8 p.m., we're going to obviously support them and open the mall at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving," Lisagor said. "The retailers can either open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, they can open at midnight like a lot of them did last year on actual Black Friday, or for the regional players that really don't have the staff to support it they can open at 6 a.m., which is what time the mall officially opens, on Friday. But I would imagine the mad rush and the majority of the traffic and business will be at 8 p.m. since the majority of retailers are supporting that."
Lisagor said it was big box retailers at Dakota Square such as Target and Sears that compelled them to open the mall on Thanksgiving because many of the anchor stores would be open tonight.
He suggests people look at the Dakota Square website at (www.shopdakotasquare.com) for a list of what stores will be open when. Although not all the mall's stores are listed, many are.
Lisagor said the 8 p.m. opening is a natural progression from years past, when midnight openings for Black Friday were common.
A recent online survey among 500 adults in the United States by KRC Research in New York City states 76 percent believe retail stores should stay closed on Thanksgiving, while only 24 percent want them to be open. That's not what local retailers are hearing, however.
"From what I can tell from talking to a lot of the public, I think the 8 p.m. is a natural progression because while they're still up and they've enjoyed the festivities and dinner, instead of going to bed for a few hours and then getting back up, to be able to go right out and do some shopping, I think for a lot of them it's actually going to be more convenient than the midnight or 3 a.m. (opening) that's been done in the past," Lisagor said. "I think it's being well received by the public, and judging from the number of retailers that are participating, even outside the mall, I think that's what the public wants."
The natural question many will ask is if many stores open at 6 or 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving this year, when will they open next year? Lisagor replied that it's a really good question, and one he is already thinking about. He said they will be polling some of their big box retailers after the weekend to see how their sales were.
While the Thanksgiving sales could very well add to an already impressive weekend total for many retailers, it's also possible they will simply spread out the same amount of money earned over an extra day.
"I think the jury's going to be out until next week to see if that overall Thursday and Friday number increased from last year," Lisagor said, noting he is taking a wait-and-see approach to opening the mall on Thanksgiving next year.
"If you would have asked me 30 days ago if we were going to be open on Thanksgiving Day this year, I would have said no, there's no chance we were going to," he said. "But little did we know that Target and Sears announced that they were going to do it."
Lisagor expects crowds just as big for tonight's 8 p.m. opening as for last year's midnight openings, which he said numbered into the thousands. He said since people will get an early start on Thanksgiving evening, crowds for Black Friday might actually be reduced, making for a more pleasant shopping experience for everyone involved.
"It actually might be a little bit less crazy since people are already going to be up," Lisagor said. "It's not the middle of the night, it's 8 p.m. now. I think it will be a very positive experience."
There are likely more than a few employees who aren't happy to be working on Thanksgiving. While store employees are stretched thinner than ever, Lisagor said good managers figure out a way to help them cope with the added workload, and take advantage of the added day of work rather than looking at it as a negative or necessary evil.
"At the mall I was at last year some of the stores brought in pizza and brought in food for their employees and tried to keep the staff as happy as possible," he said. "That's the right mentality - if you can't change it, figure out how to embrace it and to take advantage of it positively."
Kmart has been open all day on Thanksgiving for several years now, and store manager Mike Wilson said it was driven by customer demand and has worked out well for them.
"We had customers coming in our parking lot and up to our doors all throughout the day," he said of the years they were closed during Thanksgiving. "We had teams that worked on Thursday to prepare for Black Friday, and we had a steady stream of customers who wanted to shop on Thursday."
Kmart is opening at 6 a.m. this morning and won't close until Friday at 11 p.m.
While being open all day is old hat for the Minot retailer, this is only the second year the store will be open all night right through Black Friday. That decision was made largely due to many of Kmart's competitors starting to stay open all night.
"We opened during the day and then a lot of them started going overnight on Thanksgiving," Wilson said. "Instead of opening during the day they were opening up in the evening and going overnight, so we just kind of followed the group."
Thanksgiving has always been an extremely busy day for Kmart, and Wilson said this year should be no different. What is different is an additional doorbuster event. In addition to the typical 6 a.m. specials on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, he said there will be a third special this year at 7 p.m. on Thanksgiving.
"We're expecting a very good crowd, as we always have, on Thanksgiving," he said.
Kmart has learned a few things that will hopefully make Thanksgiving and Black Friday run more smoothly for it. Wilson said last year they closed for a time on Thanksgiving Day and again during the night, only to reopen a few hours later in each case. That ultimately didn't make sense to anyone involved, and has been changed this year.
"Basically running the customers out of the store when we were going to be opening up just a couple hours later, it didn't make a whole lot of sense - to us or the customers," Wilson said. "It's like we're shooing them out into the cold and say come back in two hours."
Wilson said the Thanksgiving Day sales have definitely helped Kmart's bottom line, and has added to their weekend total rather than just spreading it out over an additional day.
He said customers go to great lengths to plan out their shopping over Thanksgiving and Black Friday. He noted many go to Kmart during the day and then hit the other retailers who open up in the evening to get as many deals as they can.
By now most Kmart employees are used to working on Thanksgiving, and Wilson said management does everything in their power to make the experience as positive as possible for them. While some stores order in pizza or cold subs, Kmart brings in full turkey dinners with all the extras including pie, and serves them constantly throughout the day so every employee gets to have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner no matter when they work.
"We also have raffles for our associates. We give away prizes to our associates who are working," Wilson said. "And a lot of them are up here by themselves or they don't have family, so this is their Thanksgiving - being with their Kmart family. It's easier to be at work knowing you're going to be eating a full turkey dinner."
"We try to keep it kind of fun that day for our associates," he added.
While shopping is the main order of business at retailers during the holidays, Wilson said Kmart is also thinking of those who need a helping hand during the holidays. He is proud of his store's partnership with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, which started around Halloween this year.
Customers can donate a small amount to the hospital when the check out, and it has been adding up. Wilson said Minot shoppers have donated over $26,000 so far and made their Kmart the number one contributor to the hospital in the retailer's entire West Central Region, which is comprised of nine states including Colorado and Nevada with large metro areas like Denver and Las Vegas.
"You talk about heart, little Minot donates more money than those big metro areas," Wilson said. "It's just something that we do this time of year through the holidays because if we can send a kid home for Christmas rather than being in St. Jude's, that's a pretty neat thing."