- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 24, 2011

Claudine Brown wasn’t thrilled about spending Thanksgiving Day camped out on the sidewalk in front of the Best Buy store in Columbia Heights.

“I just made a promise, and I just wanted to keep it,” said Ms. Brown, 23, as she counted down the hours until the store opened at midnight.

The promise? A laptop computer as a Christmas gift for her 10-year-old sister.

By noon, Ms. Brown was one of five people in line who traded a traditional Thanksgiving for the hopes of saving a couple hundred dollars through “doorbuster sales” advertised at the “big box” store.

The decision this year by more retail stores to bump up opening times for their traditional Black Friday sales has critics asking whether the so-called “holiday creep” is at the expense of the meaning behind the American holiday. Some stores opened Thanksgiving Day while others moved opening times up to midnight instead of the typical 5 a.m. Friday opening.

Thanksgiving is the one day where there isn’t the stress of presents and carting things around, and we’re really sitting around the table and being grateful as a nation,” said the Rev. William Byrne, pastor at Saint Peter’s Catholic Church on Capitol Hill. “Businesses seem nervous and want to maximize, but at the expense of luring people away from the one peaceful day on the entire calendar is a great tragedy.”

For Aida Ocana, a 43-year-old medical assistant from Silver Spring, shopping with her aunt at a Hyattsville Kmart on Thanksgiving morning was far more peaceful than the alternative of hitting the mall on Black Friday.

“You can walk around today,” Mrs. Ocana remarked as she glanced down an electronics aisle where a few customers picked through discounted items. “It’s a crazy day tomorrow.”

In 2010, about 10 percent of the 212 million people who went shopping over the Thanksgiving weekend were in stores by midnight Friday, said Kathy Grannis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation.

“We expect to see that number grow,” she said this week.

As the Black Friday to Black Thursday shift grows more pervasive, Focus on Family spokeswoman Carrie Gordon Earllwarns that families should remain mindful of the role consumerism plays in their holiday celebrations.

She suggested family members ask themselves: “How are you going to spend that time? Is this nurturing or good connection time, or are we going to the mall and is everyone dispersing?”

While the popularity of having stores open Thanksgiving might be growing among consumers, there has been a pushback among employees.

At two major retailers, Target and Best Buy, employees have launched petitions asking the stores to move their opening times back to 5 a.m. Friday to give them the whole day to spend with their families.

As of Thursday, the online Target petition had gathered close to 200,000 signatures, while the Best Buy petition had collected close to 16,000.

“I’m so happy that there are some stores open,” said 18-year-old Celine Sprague as she perused stacks of clothing at the Georgetown Gap store Thursday afternoon with family. “But it must be hard on the workers.”

Extra pay tempts many workers to volunteer for holiday shifts, said Gap manager Benz Marston-Duglio. And employees who work the leisurely Thanksgiving Day shifts are often spared from clocking in during the much more hectic Black Friday, he said.

Mr. Marston-Duglio and the other five employees who closed the Gap store at 5 p.m. say they will still have time to make it home for Thanksgiving dinner.

Ms. Brown, on the other hand, is relying on her family to deliver leftovers to her midway though her wait outside the Best Buy in Columbia Heights. Killing time on her iPad while she sat slumped on the cold sidewalk, Ms. Brown couldn’t help but think about her family as they gathered at her Northeast home to prepare dinner.

“I miss hanging out and the festivities of having your family around,” said Ms. Brown, a nonprofit case worker . “I would probably never do this again.”

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