Nanny of the Week: Proposed bans on Thanksgiving Day shopping

Part 27 of 27 in the series Nanny State of the Week

By Eric Boehm |

The Friday after Thanksgiving is the biggest retail shopping day of the year, but increasingly the Christmas season is creeping backwards and threatening to crush the turkey and cranberry sauce.

More and more stores have opened on Thanksgiving in recent years, often extending their “amazing, unbelievable, downright INSANE Black Friday sales” into the holiday itself.

In response, there is a growing push from some grassroots consumer groups to boycott stores that open on Thanksgiving, in solidarity with the workers who are forced to give up their holiday to staff cash registers and stock shelves.

BLACK FRIDAY ON THURSDAY: More retailers are opening for business on Thanksgiving, but some politicians want to keep stores closed, regardless of what consumers want.

Regardless of how you feel about the question of whether stores should be open on Thanksgiving, we can probably all agree that consumers’ choices (to shop or not to shop) should determine whether stores benefit from on Thanksgiving Thursday.

In other words: Don’t like that K-Mart is opening on Thanksgiving this year? Don’t shop there. Encourage others to do the same. Let the market reward businesses who give their employees the day off.

But, like any other good idea, there are politicians trying to ruin it.

“Thanksgiving Day is supposed to be a day when we retreat from consumerism,” Ohio state Rep. Mike Foley, D-Cleveland, told Mother Jones this week. “It’s a day when you hang out with your family, go play touch football, have a big turkey dinner, and complain about your crazy uncle or cousin — but you don’t think about super blockbuster sales at Target.”

Foley is the sponsor of a bill that wouldn’t necessarily ban stores from opening on Thanksgiving, but would require them to pay workers three times their usual hourly wage on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

A similar effort is under way in Connecticut and other states — an effort the progressive Mother Jones hails as state lawmakers trying to “save Thanksgiving from greedy retailers.”

The idea, according to lawmakers pushing for such bans, is to make retailers think twice about opening on Thanksgiving. The real consequence, of course, is to make it so prohibitively expensive for them to do so that they can’t.

But on these pages, we believe that a policy effectively banning legal activity is still a step towards the nanny state — no matter how well-intentioned.

For what it’s worth, three states already have bans on Thanksgiving Day shopping: Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Not surprisingly, consumers in those states who want to shop on Thanksgiving often drive across the border to other states — taking with them the money in-state stores could have captured and the potential sales tax revenue too.

Bill Rennie, vice president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, told the Associated Press last year that many shoppers head to New Hampshire on Thanksgiving, because the state doesn’t have a ban on retail activity and also lacks a sales tax.

Why not give stores in Massachusetts the option?” he said.

Why not? Let consumers decide whether stores should be open on Thanksgiving — it might work for some, and for others it might not be worth it. That’s how a market economy works.

For the record, we’d encourage everyone to stay home and enjoy food, family and football. And we’d encourage politicians to keep their bans on holiday shopping limited to their own personal choices, rather than trying to tell everyone else what to do.