Nov. 24, 2010 -- For thousands of retail employees across the country, Thanksgiving morning won't be a time to put a turkey in the oven. Instead, they'll put on their uniforms and head to work.
Upending a time traditionally reserved for family and food, many stores across the country will be open for business on this Thanksgiving Day, trying to grab all-important Black Friday shoppers before Friday even begins. For the workers who staff those stores, it's definitely a mixed blessing.
While some stores, like Walmart, K-Mart, and grocers have been open on the holiday for years, an increasing number of retailers are jumping on the trend, believing there'll be plenty of shoppers who put down their forks to hunt for bargains on Thursday.
For the first time in the company's history, Sears will welcome customers on Thanksgiving Day. Stores will be open from 7 a.m. to noon on Thanksgiving Day.
At Toys-R-Us, employees will staff their stores to open late on Thanksgiving night, with all locations across the country opening at 10 p.m. for Black Friday sales. A spokesman said the company expects shoppers to line up outside, hours in advance.
Then there's Gap Inc., which plans for nearly 90 percent of its Old Navy stores across the country to be open throughout Thanksgiving Day, as well as over 100 Gap stores and 40 Banana Republic locations. The company began opening stores on Thanksgiving three years ago and is expanding its plans this year in response to customer demand.
"I could see where maybe some people would think that it takes away from the sanctity of the tradition, but retailers wouldn't do this if it wasn't a hit for them, if it was something their shoppers didn't want," said Kathy Grannis of the National Retail Federation.
Working on Thanksgiving has long been a fact of life for many, from police officers to nurses to reporters. But while those workers might help keep people alive on the holiday, few retail workers are thrilled when their bosses ask them to give up family dinner to fold sweaters.
According to Gap, its retail employees volunteer to take on shifts, and they're paid time-and-a-half wages. Gap also gives each store a budget to feed employees working on Thanksgiving Day.
"There's a lot of energy behind it" among employees, said Gap spokesperson Catherine Rhoades. "A lot of the stores host parties... there's a positive spirit in the store.
Old Navy Employee Spills the Beans on Thanksgiving Shift
Samantha is one of those employees who'll be at work in an Old Navy in Pennsylvania this Thursday instead of spending her whole turkey day with her family. The 22-year-old has worked off and on at Old Navy for three years, and she asked for her last name to be withheld for this story. According to Samantha, cheerful corporate policies don't always trickle down to sales floors.
"They would like it to be that everyone volunteers for the shift, but the reality is that some stores are shorter on staff than others, so they can't make it a volunteer basis," Samantha said. "We were told that we would be working on Thanksgiving."
Retail Workers Prepare to Punch Clock on Thanksgiving Day
Samantha said that while her colleagues are certainly thankful for their jobs, they're not all excited to pull 4-hour retail shifts on a holiday. Gap's $200 food budget will cover pizza for the crew at her Old Navy store, not turkey and dressing.
"Some of my co-workers are really unhappy about it," she said. "I know that there are a few who are very cheerful, but I think they're trying to amp us up."
And before you think that all the holiday workers are twenty-somethings or people with part-time jobs, Samantha pointed out that many of her colleagues are older with families waiting at home.
"We even have a grandma who works there. She's in charge of her family's Thanksgiving meal, but she's working that day," Samantha said. "She has to work from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m."
Samantha said she and her colleagues don't know whether to blame their employer or the shoppers who show up on the holiday. When Old Navy workers hand out coupons advertising Thanksgiving sales, customers often tell them they think it's awful that they have to work.
"But I guess there are some people who will show up," Samantha said.