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By Kimberley Donoghue
PBN Web Editor
PROVIDENCE – Is Old Navy to blame or to thank for moving up Black Friday?
Probably depends on whether you’re a shopper or a worker at a big box retailer.
The blooming trend of opening doors at midnight on Black Friday – and calling in workers still during Thanksgiving Day – first began in 2010 with Old Navy.
Not to be left behind, this year Target, Macy’s Inc., Gap Inc., Kohl’s Corp., Toys “R” Us Inc. and Best Buy Co. have decided to open at midnight or earlier on Thanksgiving in an attempt to goose sales that the National Retail Federation says may rise just 2.8 percent this holiday season, or about half as much as last year, Bloomberg News reported.
“[It’s] a zero-sum game when it comes to dollars people are going to spend this holiday season. If they spend them at my store instead of your store, I win,” said Keith Murray, professor of marketing at Bryant University, explaining his “first bite patronage” theory.
“If you’ve watched this over time, the sales used to be at 9 a.m. and then at 6 a.m., now it’s midnight,” Murray added. “I think that some of these stores are now violating the – what used to be understood – rule you wouldn’t be open on Thanksgiving Day.”
One person unhappy about retailers moving up Black Friday was Target employee Anthony Hardwick who started an online petition protesting the store’s 11 p.m. roll call.
The “Tell Target to Save Thanksgiving” garnered nearly 192,000 signatures by Monday.
Bill Lagasse, licensing clerk for Warwick, handles the permits retailers have to request to open overnight. And, although requests are done electronically and the deadline was set for Nov. 1, permit requests were still coming in on Monday.
“We’re trying to be business-friendly and with the tough economic climate, we’re trying to do everything we can to help,” Lagasse said.
The number of permit requests has literally skyrocketed this year. Lagasse estimated that last year about a dozen requested Black Friday permits while this year, they’re processing upwards of 50.
“We’re also getting requests from a wider variety of businesses this year, too,” he said, noting that “supporting businesses” like restaurants have jumped on board.
“It’s absolutely more work, but we don’t mind it. It’s a labor of love with the economy the way it is,” Lagasse said. Warwick is planning on studying how to improve permit efficiencies next year, including giving the mall stores’ a blanket permission to open at midnight.
Target in Warwick will be opening at 1 a.m., Macy’s at 12:30 a.m. and Old Navy at midnight.
But, are these going to be the same shoppers that would’ve also come at 4 a.m.?
“It’s hard to tell. It’s one of those things that is hard to measure,” said Domenic Schiavone, general manager of the Warwick Mall. “Here, it starts busy and it stays busy.”
Schiavone, who expects several thousand shoppers Black Friday, said the busiest time of day last year was between 3:30 a.m. and 10 a.m.; the crowds usually peter out around 6:30 p.m., he said.
In Providence, 14 stores had announced midnight openings on Monday, and another five are opening at other early-morning hours. Stephanie Rice, marketing manager for Providence Place, was constantly updating the opening hours schedule last week.
“This is the first time that we’ve had [this many] retailers opening at midnight. I’m really curious to see how it will go,” said Rice.
“We’ve seen in years past that there was the ‘want’,” Rice said. “We are anticipating a pretty large Black Friday crowd. Nothing’s changed as far as shoppers’ habits.”
Providence Place does not keep track of the number of visitors, but Rice said that it’s reasonable to expect that the 4,500-space parking garage will be full all day.
The busiest time? Probably 5 a.m. to 9 a.m., Rice said, guessing that most would start early in the department stores and then work their way into the inner mall.
Local mall opening hours (as of Monday):