Turkey or sales? How will Lehigh Valley stores handle Thanksgiving?

John Harris/The Morning Call - To close or not to close? That is the question for retailers this Thanksgiving.

Over the last couple of years, it wasn't much of a dilemma at all. Retailers started their Black Friday sales earlier and introduced us to a new shopping holiday that quickly became known as Gray Thursday. After all, brick-and-mortar stores couldn't waste a day against increasingly competitive online retailers — or could they?

This year, a growing list of retailers are deciding to close on Thanksgiving, giving their employees a day of turkey, stuffing and football rather than one filled with pushy shoppers, sales tags and cash registers.

Retail analyst Jeff Green, owner of Jeff Green Partners in Phoenix, said this the first year where a significant number of retailers are reconsidering whether to open on Thanksgiving, a shopping day that has brought "mixed success," and in the process frustrated employees who are forced to work.

"Making them work on Thanksgiving didn't make a lot of sense from a goodwill standpoint," Green said. "No. 2, they had to pay holiday pay, and No. 3, it wasn't penciling out as a profitable venture."

He also observed that many shoppers who venture out of a turkey-induced coma to shop on Thanksgiving go right for the doorbuster sale, check out and leave. "It showed me that it wasn't translating into cross-shopping," Green said.

One company trading in its cash registers for turkey — at least for one day — is office product giant Office Depot, which has a store in South Whitehall Township. The company's stores are slated to open at 6 a.m. Black Friday.

In addition, appliance and electronics retailer hhgregg, which has a location at the Lehigh Valley Mall, said all 220 of its brick-and-mortar stores will be closed on Thanksgiving, and open at 7 a.m. Black Friday.

They're not alone. Several retailers with a significant presence in the Lehigh Valley, including Staples, Barnes & Noble, Home Depot and Lowe's, also have decided to close on Thanksgiving, according to BFAds.net, a website dedicated to posting Black Friday news.

Even Mall of America, the nation's largest shopping mall in Bloomington, Minn., will be closed.

Some retailers and shopping centers will remain open, however.

For one, Lehigh Valley Mall will open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving and then close at 1 a.m. on Black Friday before reopening at 6 a.m. Les Morris, spokesman for Simon Property Group, which co-owns the mall, said the mall does not require its retailers to open but the majority choose to do so.

One of the mall's anchors is Macy's, the department store chain that Monday said it will open its full-line stores at 5 p.m. Thanksgiving Day.

Macy's spokeswoman Holly Thomas said most Macy's stores will remain open until 2 a.m. on Black Friday and then reopen at 6 a.m.

She added that Macy's surveyed its employees and the retailer is now "working diligently" to staff its stores with those who volunteered to work Thanksgiving. She noted any employee who works on Thanksgiving will get overtime pay.

Meanwhile, Boscov's, which has department stores at the Palmer Park Mall in Palmer Township and Lehigh Valley Mall, has not decided whether its stores will open Thanksgiving, CEO and Vice Chairman Jim Boscov said.

"We are looking to see what everybody else is doing — what the malls are doing, what the major department stores are doing — and then we'll make a determination," Boscov said.

While retailers that will close on Thanksgiving say the decision was made to benefit employees, Green said such decisions boil down to one word: competition.

"Retailers are like sheep," Green said.

When a couple retailers started opening on Thanksgiving, others followed suit, he said. Now, with more and more stores taking a pass on Thanksgiving sales, Green expects others to eventually follow the herd — sooner rather than later.

Other major retailers like Target, Best Buy and J.C. Penney are expected to announce their Thanksgiving weekend hours soon, The Associated Press reported.

"Next year, we're going to find most won't open (on Thanksgiving), or they'll open at midnight," Green said.