REI makes the right decision closing on Black Friday

If this is how you spend Thanksgiving, perhaps it's time to take REI's message to heart.

If this is how you spend Thanksgiving, perhaps it’s time to take REI’s message to heart.

For years, I’ve ranted and raved about the depravity of Thanksgiving and Black Friday shopping. In lieu of family time, we devolve into a proto-human state, as we trample, bum rush, and make a mad dash into Targets, Best Buys, Wal-Marts, and other big box stores across the country. All for a deal, right?

We seldom consider what we ask of retail employees–often some of the lowest paid employees in the country–as they give up their holiday to service our endless quest for bargains and mostly junk. The deal on electronics, toys, and clothes is just too much for the American consumer or the American retailer to pass up and in recent years, retailers moved Black Friday into Thanksgiving Day, ruining the holidays for countless numbers of Americans. It’s not just the employees who give up their holiday to watch the hordes stuff mass quantities of “Made in China” dreck into a cart, but the families of those who wolf down Thanksgiving dinner because Target opens in two hours.

As I said, I’ve discussed this before and I am firmly against retailers who open on Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is the only secular holiday in the United States in which we gather with family, eat a festive meal, and hopefully feel thankful for all we have. It’s important, it’s reflective, and it’s a day that ties us to a simpler, more respectful United States. Retailers and consumers have changed that, but fortunately, someone is bucking the trend.

Outdoor retailer REI–which also happens to be a coop–won’t just close on Thanksgiving this year, but they’re also closing on Black Fridaypaying employees to spend the day outdoors, and encouraging their customers to do the same.

You mean Thanksgiving and the day after don’t have to be about rampant consumerism, fueled by bloodthirsty shoppers? What a novel idea!

REI’s move is important because they’re sacrificing sales on the most important retail day of the year–they won’t even process online orders until Saturday–and they’re using the day to encourage people to do something we rarely do anymore: go outside.

Look, it’s doubtful any other retailers will follow REI’s lead and close on Thanksgiving or Black Friday. Frankly, those two days are simply too important to a company’s bottom dollar to stay closed. The sales on Thanksgiving and Black Friday are seemingly intertwined with a holiday that once had nothing to do with shopping, but alas, here we are. Perhaps REI’s decision will impact retailers who’ve allowed Black Friday to creep well into Thanksgiving Day, and in some cases never actually closing for the holiday. Costco, Staples, Sam’s Club–owned by Wal-Mart–(ironic right?), and Gamestop are among a few, select retailers that will remain closed for the entirety of Thanksgiving Day, a wonderful gesture to their employees. Perhaps it’s a start of something bigger, better, and more respectful. After all, the concept of giving thanks is completely lost when we see a horde of deal-hungry people rush into a store fighting–yes, literally fighting–over the last cheap television, video game system, or small appliance.

Is any of that worth it?

Certainly in an American consumerist culture, the answer is yes. To many, sales are part of Thanksgiving traditions in the same way turkey and football are traditions. However, REI is proving the tradition of shopping can be usurped by something more novel, like hiking, walking, jogging, biking, or any outdoor activity–assuming the weather in your area is reasonable on that Friday. Sure, you can burn off turkey and stuffing running around Best Buy scooping up $2 blu-rays, but a Best Buy close to my house is just a mile from a National Battlefield (ironically, there’s an REI across the street from that Best Buy). Hiking Kennesaw Mountain or getting a below average superhero movie for $2?

Just a mile from a shopping mecca, I can hike Kennesaw Mt., a Civil War battlefield.

Just a mile from a shopping mecca in metro-Atlanta, I can hike Kennesaw Mt., a Civil War battlefield.

We live in a cynical country obsessed with bargain shopping, so I assume most Americans will chalk up REI’s Black Friday closure to a publicity stunt for a smallish national retailer looking to boost holiday sales through a goodwill gesture toward its employees. I rarely shop there, but I must say, the “stunt” makes me more likely to check out REI when I need to replace my hiking shoes or buy a new raincoat, despite the high prices. A company that values its employees will always rank higher in my book than a company that treats employees like expendable junk, much like what you will end up buying on Thanksgiving/Black Friday.

Regardless of what you do this holiday season, consider REI’s actions, the importance of a secular, inclusive holiday like Thanksgiving and how little quality time we spend with our family (immediate or extended). Consider the person sitting at your dining room table playing on a smart phone rather than engaging in conversation, or the person tapping their feet, checking their watch–or smart phone–getting ready for the thrill of the chase for the $100 42″ HDTV. Consider what little quality time we spend with one another these days and perhaps instead of shopping on Black Friday, you’ll join REI and spend the day outside.

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