Charde Nabors, a cashier at a Sears department store in Chicago, would prefer to spend Thanksgiving in her mother's kitchen.
Instead, she might be working, along with some co-workers. Sears is among the many retailers that will be open on Thanksgiving Day.
Black Friday and Thanksgiving hours
Thanksgiving and Black Friday store hours for several major retailers:
Best Buy Stores — Open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving until 10 p.m. on Friday.
J.C. Penney — Open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving until 9 p.m. on Friday.
Kohl’s — Open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving until midnight on Saturday.
Macy’s — Open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving until about 10 p.m. on Friday at most stores.
Sears — Open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving until 10 p.m. on Friday.
Kmart — Open at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving until 11 p.m. on Friday.
Staples — Open at 8 p.m. until midnight on Thanksgiving. Reopen at 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. on Friday.
Target — Open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving until 11 p.m. on Friday.
Toys R Us — Open at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving until 10 p.m. on Friday.
Wal-Mart — Open 24 hours at most stores.
Fred Meyer — Open until 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving and at 5 a.m. on Friday with Black Friday specials until noon.
"We really don't want to work that, but who would say no when you need the money?" said Nabors, 22, of Chicago, who works part time for $9 per hour and is a single mother to an infant and a 3-year-old.
Whether she volunteers or not, she may be chosen to work that day anyway.
"To me, that's what Thanksgiving does, it brings you and your family together," Nabors said. "And this is just taking it away."
The taboo of mixing turkey and shopping has been obliterated this year. Holiday creep has progressed to simultaneously ring in the potential deaths of both Black Friday and family Thanksgiving dinner.
The prime example among retailers might be Kmart. It has long been open for some hours on Thanksgiving, but this year it will be open for 41 hours straight, starting at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving. Macy's will break a 155-year-old tradition of closing on Thanksgiving and will open at 8 p.m. Thursday, as will Sears, which will then stay open through the night until 10 p.m. Friday. Wal-Mart, Target, J.C. Penney, Toys R Us, Best Buy and many others will also have Thanksgiving hours this year.
"Thanksgiving used to be the one day retailers took a breather," said Bill Martin, founder of retail consultant ShopperTrak in Chicago. "We find it an unusual tactic for the retailers. … They're trying to get to the consumer's wallet as early as possible."
It's part of an escalating race among retailers, leading Black Friday to morph into Black Thursday.
Blame it on this year's holiday calendar crunch. Or copycat retailers scared to death of losing sales to a competitor. Or technology that has conditioned the gimme-it-now consumer who shops on an iPad at home at 3 a.m.
"The culture shock of, 'Oh, my goodness, they're opening on Thanksgiving!' is starting to wear off," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at market research firm The NPD Group.
But, experts say, don't attribute stores' earlier hours to some notion of American shoppers, wallet in sweaty hand, quivering with consumer lust for door-buster deals on Thanksgiving Day — even though several retailers, including Kmart and Macy's, claim they are simply giving their customers what they want.
"The biggest piece of bull is that consumers are asking for this," said Darrin Duber-Smith, marketing professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
Martin calls the trend a "sad event."
"We don't think it's the consumer saying, 'Open up earlier, open up more.' We think it's really the retailers trying to get at the wallet and pull them into the store — to get to the money before it's all spent."
But a relatively small segment of deal-seeking consumers will be glad for the extended Black Friday, Duber-Smith said. He calls them adventure shoppers who are "stimulated by the hunt."
Last year, 23 percent of holiday shoppers said they would shop on Thanksgiving Day, up from 17 percent in 2011, according to a shopping survey by Deloitte.
A different poll found nearly 1 in 7 shoppers admitted to skipping Thanksgiving dinner, rushing through it or starting early to participate in Black Friday sales. Some chose not to travel to a relative's house in favor of shopping, according to the poll released by PromotionalCodes.com and conducted online by Harris Interactive.
So there is some interest among shoppers, Cohen said. "I wouldn't say they're demanding it, but they're not hating it," he said.
David Gladney, 38, of Chicago, said he prefers early Thanksgiving Day store openings. He can get his deal hunting out of the way in the beginning of the day — this year scouting comforters and large flat-screen televisions — and then get back to food, family and football.
"I would come out — just because it's that early," he said.
The stigma of doing something besides being with family on Thanksgiving has been dissipating, and shopping is only the latest alternative activity, said Randy Allen, a management professor at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University.
Other events such as Turkey Trot running races and deer hunting on Thanksgiving morning pull people away from family, Allen said. And, of course, sports fans are often loafing in front of televised football games. What's the harm in nonsports fans participating in the most American of all sports, competitive shopping?
"It's not like the whole family is necessarily together the whole day, anyway," Allen said.
And shopping can be a distraction for those who find spending time with family stressful, Cohen said.
"The meal takes three hours to prepare, 25 minutes to eat, and after 45 minutes of sitting with your Aunt Tilly, you can't wait to get away from the table," Cohen said. "This gives you an excuse to go do something."
Some still hold out
Tahiya Ismat, 25, of Oak Park, Ill., is one who will try it. She plans to visit open stores on Thanksgiving between catching the McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade downtown and having dinner with friends.
"Yeah, probably I'll come shopping since I don't have anything to do," she said.
Still, some retailers refuse to open on Thanksgiving.
"Some things are more important than a sale or the almighty dollar, which is family," said Jim von Maur, president of Von Maur department stores.
He called the trend toward opening on Thanksgiving "pathetic." "We think holidays are there for a reason, so families can be home," he said. Von Maur will be closed on Thanksgiving — in fact, stores will close at 4 p.m. Wednesday — and open only during normal business hours on Black Friday.
Sam's Club, too, is among those that will remain closed on Thanksgiving Day this year. "Our members tell us they want to enjoy Thanksgiving Day with family and friends," said Carrie Foster Moore, spokeswoman for Sam's Club.
Stores that open on Thanksgiving Day risk angering consumers, experts say.
Most people don't care what shoppers do on Thanksgiving, but many worry about forcing retail employees to work on the holiday, and in some cases through the night, to ring up holiday booty.
"It's not fair to them," von Maur said. "You're maybe getting a little extra business, but is it enough to justify putting your sales associates through all that — working those horrible hours?"
Last year and again this year, several online petitions were created on website Change.org demanding that chains keep their doors shut on Thanksgiving or asking consumers to boycott stores that open.
As of last Thanksgiving, a backlash hadn't come, Cohen said.
Last Thanksgiving, Cohen interviewed 375 consumers face-to-face and asked them whether it bothered them that the store was open. "Not one person said yes," Cohen said. "Most people are neutral on it and don't care one way or the other."
As for employees, most retailers are asking for volunteers, and some are paying time and a half. "The vast majority of workers are being asked if they want to work and are choosing to do so," Cohen said. "If you don't want to work on Thanksgiving, don't."
At Kmart, for example, stores will be staffed with seasonal workers when possible, "giving them the opportunity to make extra money during the holiday," said spokeswoman Shannelle Armstrong-Fowler.
And Macy's was mindful of how customers would perceive its opening at 8 p.m. Thursday, noting it's "after families across the country have finished their holiday meals and celebrations." In the announcement, it said it tried to minimize the impact on employees by "planning early to allow associates the time to review available shifts throughout the holiday season, including on Thanksgiving weekend, and to volunteer for the shifts they prefer."
Retailers might also avoid consumer contempt because Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday, like Christmas, Cohen said.
Other nonreligious American holidays are now known for their retail sales events: Columbus Day, Presidents Day, Independence Day. "Here's the next opportunity for retail to capitalize on turning a holiday into a retail holiday," Cohen said.
Extended retail hours didn't start with Black Friday, but began decades ago with the rise of two-income families and parents who couldn't get to stores during the day, Allen said. That led to nighttime hours during the week and being open on Sundays.
The rise of indoor malls contributed, making it safe, warm, dry and convenient to shop at night, Allen said.
But the recent trend of extended hours for holidays began about a decade ago, when Kmart and a few others stayed open until midnight on Christmas Eve to give last-minute shoppers a final chance to shop, said Allen, a former Kmart executive.
Later, retailers began backing up Black Friday to the wee hours of Friday morning.
One-upmanship, driven by intense competition in retail, has now pushed more retailers over the line into Thanksgiving.
"It's really a zero-sum game for retailers," Allen said. "If they don't get the business, somebody else is going to get it."
Cohen also sees it as a defensive move. "This is about protecting your business, not gaining a lot of extra business," Cohen said.