I-Team: Retailers feel pressure to open Thanksgiving

The trees and trimmings are up; holiday is music playing in the mall. And in 47 states, Black Friday super-shopping is starting even earlier.

Target, Kohl's, Kmart and Walmart are just a few of the big-name retailers that will open their doors for at least part of the day on Thanksgiving, or what some are calling "Brown Thursday."

But not in Rhode Island, Massachusetts or Maine, where blue laws prohibit retail stores from opening on Thanksgiving Day.

"I think it takes away from the meaning of Christmas," one shopper said.

Some shoppers say they're glad New England is resisting the trend.

"I just think we need more respect for our few holidays in this country," said Carolyn Macksoud.

Experts say retailers are pushing early shopping even harder this year. The reason? The holiday season is a full week shorter.

"This is a trend that's been going on for the last 10 to 15 years. They're to get the consumer to think early and shop early," said Melanie St. Jean, a professor at Southern New Hampshire University.

St. Jean, a retail and merchandising expert, said while Black Friday used to make up as much as 60 percent of annual sales, that number is now as low as 20 percent, with more and more people shopping online.

As a result, brick-and-mortar stores need to get shoppers in the door early and often.

"I don't think it is driven by the consumers. I think the retailers are putting in the consumer's mind, if you go out, why don't you go out?" St. Jean said.

Others say there's a demand from younger shoppers who don't want to stay home all day on Thanksgiving.

"People are not going to want to stay home all day like they used to," said Paul DeRoche of the Rhode Island Retail Federation.

DeRoche said he believes it's only a matter of time until Rhode Island and Massachusetts follow that trend.

"I think a lot of employees will treasure the fact that they can go to work for a couple of hours and pick up a few dollars to spend," DeRoche said.

But amid the push to shop earlier, there's also a pushback from groups who say enough is enough.

"A few people buy lots of things. Most people have a hard time. They're struggling to get by," said Greg Gerritt.

Gerritt is organizing Buy Nothing Day across Rhode Island, an anti-consumer response to Black Friday.

Instead of shopping, he and others will hold a coat drive outside Providence Place mall the day after Thanksgiving, with other locations across the state.

The goal is to help others instead of buying things you may not even need.

As for the "Brown Thursday" trend, Gerritt said he worries it punishes minimum-wage employees, who have no choice but to work on the holiday.

He points to several Walmart stores across the country that set up Thanksgiving food drives for their own employees.

"People get a day off very rarely, especially in retail. You know the next three weeks are just going to be completely intense. So why not give them a day off?" Gerritt said.

One New England retailer says it simply won't open on Thanksgiving even if the blue laws are changed.

"It goes against our grain to be open on a holiday like that. It's a family day," said Arnold Bromberg of Benny's.

Not only will Benny's be closed on Thanksgiving, its stores won't open until 8:30 a.m. on Black Friday, hours later than big-box chains that plan to open at midnight. The retailer is even running an ad campaign, urging shoppers to sleep in.

If you're checking the ads and planning to head out for some early holiday shopping, check hours for each store. Then double-check them. Remember that Rhode Island and Massachusetts stores legally can't open before 12:01 a.m. Friday, and some may not open until even later.