I worked “Gray Thursday” and this is what I learned.

I haven’t updated in a few days, but there’s been a lot of really good things going on. I’m going to get back on track with that this upcoming week. Today, though, I want to talk about my experience working on the evening of Thanksgiving, also being called Gray Thursday.

I work part-time at Macy’s, specifically at the Clinique counter. This year my Macy’s opened at 6pm and, per Macy’s policy, people working the Black Friday shifts all work ten hours. Actual Black Friday shifts are mandatory, but the early-open versions of these shifts are a little different. They are usually offered up to volunteers first. This year, the opening shift was 5:45pm to 3:45am and I opted for it. Now that I’ve survived my Thursday/Black Friday shift I have some opinions about the stores opening on Thanksgiving.

People keep making noise about how stores being open on Thanksgiving night were interfering with families spending the holiday together, both for workers and shoppers. While I am sure that is the case for some I did not find it to be the case for all. In fact, I found it to be quite the opposite. Here’s why.

Pretty much all of the workers I spoke with, both at my Macy’s and from other retailers in the mall where I work were volunteers for those whacky shifts. They weren’t just blanket assigned them. They had to request them or select them. A few had come from family events beforehand, but many also weren’t actually celebrating until this weekend or didn’t celebrate in traditional fashions. A few didn’t have family nearby and wanted to work the extra hours to make extra money so they could go home for Christmas instead. There was even one who said that she didn’t really have family to speak of and her coworkers had become family to her so this was her holiday and she was very thankful. No one I spoke with was missing out on family holiday time because they had to work.

I also discovered that not all of the Thursday-open stores were staying open straight through. Most of the big-box stores were, of course, and Macy’s was, but after midnight a large number of stores started closing so people could go home and have morning with their families (and get some sleep!) What I found interesting was that I spoke with several shoppers who had been working at other stores, got off their shift, and met up with family or friends at the Food Court, and went shopping together as part of a tradition of Black Friday shopping followed by breakfast out.

And let’s talk about the idea of Black Friday shopping as family tradition. So many of my customers and other customers I saw in the store were out with their families. I saw a lot of parents and kids with their Christmas lists going and doing all their holiday shopping together. Many had gotten coffee beforehand, or spoke of getting some sort of treat together after. I saw one woman teaching her young teen daughter about budgeting and the holidays as they shopped for cosmetic gift sets. I saw another father and his kids working on lists for adopt-a-family charities. I even saw a sweet act of generosity where a young girl really, really, really wanted to get a lip gloss set for her mom but was short about five bucks. A stranger reached into her wallet and gave the kid the five bucks.

People were generally pretty orderly from what I saw and nearly everyone was happy and cheerful. It was pretty great.

I realize there were fights and brawls at some stores in other places (not my mall and as far as I know, not my city.) I also realize that not all workers got to volunteer for shifts. I certainly don’t think that consumerism is what the holiday is about, either, but with everyone and everything I saw last night my opinion of shopping on the night of Thanksgiving and Black Friday on the whole totally changed. Next year, since I know I won’t be working it (more on that in another post) I think I may actually go out and do some shopping, but I will have some parameters on that. First, I will shop only at stores where the shifts on Thanksgiving evening are voluntary. People should be able to choose how they spend their holiday. Second, I will try to incorporate some sort of quality to my shopping. Getting hot chocolate or coffee with people I love before or during will give specialness to it and definitely make it more of a tradition. Third, I won’t just buy for myself. I will buy gifts for others, and I will try to do something kind of those in need. I will also probably avoid technology deals because those tend to be not the best deals anyway, but also people fight (I likely won’t be at any Walmarts.)

So yeah, working on Thanksgiving was actually kind of fun. Shopping looked like a blast (and let’s be honest, I did get a couple of deals!) The whole thing was really nice. It’ll be great next year.


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