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Small Businesses, You Could Get Fined For Closing On Thanksgiving

Once upon a few-years-ago, virtually all stores were closed on Thanksgiving, with the exception of 7-Eleven and the occasional mom-and-pop shop. The stores would compensate by opening at 6 a.m. the following morning (a.k.a. “Black Friday”) with “door buster” sales, which officially launched the Christmas shopping season and provided an invaluable release to millions of shoppers ready to explode after the crazed double-whammy of spending an entire day with their relatives and not being able to buy anything.

Then the major stores gradually moved up the Black Friday opening to 5 a.m. and then 4 a.m., and a couple years ago, to midnight. This rankled some folks who argued that to get the best deals at a midnight opening, bargain-hunters would have to take leave from their Thanksgiving dinners early, to go wait in line.

This year, Macy’s, Wal-Mart and Target are opening at 6 p.m., while JC Penney is opening at 5 p.m., prompting many shoppers to remark, “Wait, JC Penney is still open?” K-Mart is opening 6 a.m. Thanksgiving morning. The shift has been so total that there’s a website listing stores that are still closed for the holiday.

So how could this trend affect smaller businesses like yours? Consider the cheery story about the mall owner who is threatening to fine stores $200 per hour if they remain closed on Thanksgiving.

The Walden Galleria, a giant mall in the Buffalo–Niagara Falls area in upstate New York, is the one getting the most publicity. When asked about the mall’s Thanksgiving philosophy, a spokesperson said, “Gobble, gobble, gobble.”

“We’re just stuck following the rules, because if we didn’t, we’d be fined by the mall and being a small company, that’s substantial to us. We can’t just pay that. We have to stay open,” Shaun Deutsch, the manager of the mall’s Tee Shirt University store said, according to the local Time Warner Cable News station. “It’s been a lot different this year trying to find people to work. It’s not been easy. I’ve been forced to schedule myself because I can’t find anyone else, really, to help me out.”

Similar financial threats have been levied against store owners in malls in Washington state and Oregon, and, let’s face it, probably elsewhere. Mall owners are about nothing if not about keeping up with trends.

Upset store managers from the Walden Galleria told the press that this is the first year the mall is opening on Thanksgiving Day. Since this is a change of policy on the mall’s part, it would seem at first glance that the individual store owners would be immune from fines. If your store has been in the mall for a few years, back to the time when opening on Thanksgiving was unthinkable, it’s likely that nobody thought to add a clause to the contract about remaining closed that day.

Even if there was some parenthetical clause about the mall owners having the discretion to change operating hours, etc., it probably wasn’t considered applicable to our national turkey day. It’s impossible to think of everything, but I suppose the lesson here, if you’re a business owner, is think of everything before signing a contract. Go over it with the proverbial fine-tooth comb.

I believe Wal-Mart is running a Black Friday special on fine-tooth combs, just so you know.

And if you operate a business in a mall that is not pressuring you to open this Thanksgiving, well, you’re ahead of the game. You already have something to be thankful for.

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