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(NECN: Peter Howe, Boston/Malden, Mass.) - Once long ago, the Black Friday shopping deals started with stores opening at 6 a.m. Then it went to 4 a.m., 2 a.m., 12:01 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving.
Now big stores like Target, WalMart, Sears and Toys 'R Us are planning to open as early as 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving night to kick off the holiday shopping season frenzy.
Thanks to Colonial-era "Blue Laws," though, that’s not possible in Massachusetts, Maine or Rhode Island. But Massachusetts Retailers Association president Jon Hurst hopes legislators and Governor Deval L. Patrick will reconsider.
"Our philosophy is: If consumers want to shop and spend money on Thanksgiving evening, you know, let’s let them," Hurst said in an interview Tuesday, adding that the laws aren’t thwarting determined shoppers and merchants.
"We’re not stopping Massachusetts consumers from buying that evening. We’re just stopping them from buying in Massachusetts," Hurst said. "They can hop in their car and drive to one of the border states" where stores are open "or get on their smartphone and shop 24-7, 365 days a year for online sellers. We’re just preventing extra income from being spent in Massachusetts, and that’s something we’ve got to talk about."
Under current law, gas stations, pharmacies, florists, convenience stores and retail outlets like convenience stores with fewer than seven employees are allowed to open on Thanksgiving.
Many labor and religious leaders – and people who just think Thanksgiving should stay a day of family and turkey and football – disagree with lifting the ban on bigger stores opening.
"Thanksgiving is probably our best family day, so I would suggest that we keep it our family day," said Steve Tolman, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. "When are we going to have some downtime? This is thanksgiving for everything we’ve had all year, and now we want to allow people or mandate that people would have to work? I’d say no."
One of the highest-profile acts of opposition to the Thanksgiving store openings: An online petition at Change.org started by a woman who identifies herself as a six-year employee of Target, with signers urging Target to keep its stores closed on Nov. 22.
Target says it’s had far more employees volunteer to work on Thanksgiving than it needs, and Hurst says if the Blue Laws are changed to allow Thanksgiving store openings in Massachusetts, "It would have to be voluntary to work, and there would be premium pay just like we have on other holidays."
With videographer David Jacobs.