By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald Staff Writer
Black Friday appears poised to make the jump to Black Thursday.
The post-Thanksgiving start to the holiday shopping season — named Black Friday, as it has proven to be the day when high-volume sales push retailers’ bottom lines into the black — has crept backward in recent years, with big-box stores like Walmart, Target and others around the country offering their rock-bottom prices to the public earlier in the season than ever before.
Store spokesmen have said the changes are an attempt to meet increased customer demand for earlier shopping opportunities.
Meanwhile, some people have criticized the decision to open for business on Thanksgiving, making employees miss time with their families on a holiday.
Online groups have started a number of petitions protesting the “Black Friday creep,” and on Thursday groups of Walmart employees around the country announced that they would be staging walkouts in protest of their new Black Friday hours.
This year, Hilo’s Walmart, always one of the biggest draws for East Hawaii holiday deal hunters, will begin offering its Black Friday discounts the evening of Thursday, Nov. 22.
“The majority of our U.S. stores will be open 24 hours for our post-Thanksgiving, Black Friday events,” said LaToya Evans, a mainland spokeswoman for the retailer. “Our in-store specials will be available in stores starting at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving night, followed by events at 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. on Black Friday.”
Sears has also announced it will open its doors at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving evening. An hour later, Target will begin its Black Friday shopping event at 9 p.m. And Sports Authority will open to shoppers at midnight.
Meanwhile, smaller mom-and-pop shops are mainly trying to stay out of the way, while capitalizing on their own strengths that serve to draw much smaller, but more loyal, crowds,
“Hilo is a real, last-minute town,” said Alice Moon, executive director of the Hilo Downtown Improvement Association. “So there’s not a lot of shopping early on. And when you’ve got major, large retailers doing Black Friday on Thursday, with deals that make you say, ‘How can I refuse?’ … well, Black Friday tends not to have much of an impact downtown.”
Rather than attempting to compete on pricing, a game no small business owner can win, downtown businesses are focusing on customer service and maintaining strong relationships with their customers, Moon said.
“They’re trying to promote the idea of ‘You get what you pay for,’” she said. “Downtown is a more individual, enriched experience. It’s more thoughtful. … I really think when you share a gift with someone that you purchased from a downtown, local business, I think that in itself is a gift. It shows you took the time, you cared. It’s more intimate and personal.”
Of the trend toward opening for business on Thanksgiving, Moon said it is an unfortunate one.
“I’m not a very big consumer myself. I’d rather try to celebrate the season in other ways, than going out and spending massive amounts of money on things nobody wants,” she said. “But, I’ve come to accept that this is the way of our society.”
Christine Reed, owner of Hilo’s Basically Books, which celebrates 27 years in business today, said she thought about keeping her store open on Thanksgiving Day, but ultimately decided against it after talking with fellow Hilo shop owners and friends.
“I considered opening Thanksgiving because there will be a (cruise) ship in town,” she said. “But everyone felt that it was important to spend the holiday with family.”
Instead, she and others will be celebrating the day after Black Friday — Small Business Saturday, which focuses on local shops, as opposed to large, corporate retailers.
For the third year in a row, American Express will be offering a $25 discount to registered card owners who shop at small businesses, Reed said.
For more information on the promotion, visit www.americanexpress.com/us/small-business/. Participating Hilo shops include Sig Zane Designs, Island Motion Wear, Aloha Grown, Village Toy Shop, Rock Island Gallery, Orchid Land Surfshop, Sugar Coast Candy and Hilo Bay Paddler, among others. A complete list of participating businesses can be found at the site.
In general, area business owners said they are optimistic for the holiday shopping season and expect to see better sales than in years past.
Mia Hayashi, manager of Bob’s Jewelers on King Kamehameha Avenue, said Thursday that she is looking forward to sales picking up in the coming weeks.
“We’ve been pretty steady the past few years, and hopefully we’re going to get busy this year,” she said. “Usually, we’re pretty slow until around Thanksgiving, and then it picks up.”
Hayashi added that the store will be running a “buy one, get one free” promotion after Thanksgiving to help spur sales.
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.