Black Friday has started earlier and earlier every year for American retailers, creeping from Friday itself to openings on Thanksgiving Day. But now three states are requiring businesses to wait until midnight for those door-buster deals.
What are known as blue laws — first created in the colonial era to get people into church on Sunday morning and holidays — ban retailers in Massachusetts, Maine and Rhode Island from opening on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Historically, those laws were much more restrictive, prohibiting the alcohol sales on Sunday. But Jon Hurst, director of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said that very few businesses have actually pushed to lift the Thanksgiving day ban.
“We haven’t really been under pressure to change the laws here,” Hurst stated. “Frankly, it wouldn’t be my cup of tea to go out on Thanksgiving night and shop. I’d rather watch football.”
However, he noted his concern that Massachusetts residents may simply cross the border to go shopping in Connecticut or New Hampshire that night.
“We know those stores are busy on Thursday night,” Hurst said. “So it raises the question: Are Massachusetts blue laws stopping consumers from shopping? Or are they just stopping them from shopping in Massachusetts?”
Across the U.S., stores like Target, Toys R Us and Kmart have moved Black Friday hours earlier and earlier, encouraging families to scarf down their turkey and stuffing on Thursday afternoon and then head out for bargain shopping. Critics have been complaining of a “war on Thanksgiving” for over a decade now, and surviving blue laws offer an unexpected protective barrier for the traditional holiday spent at home with friends and family.
“I used to work in retail and it stinks to work on the holidays,” said Juliana Bondor, of Holyoke, Massachusetts. “Especially for Thanksgiving — that was started as a holiday for Americans to be together with family — I think the laws are important to protect workers.”
Many major retailers, including Costco, Marshall’s and Barnes & Noble, have made the decision to stay closed on Thanksgiving. Hurst thinks that if the law were amended in Massachusetts, most businesses would probably still opt to stay closed.
“It’s never been illegal to open on Easter,” he said. “But very, very few open because there’s just not much of a demand.”