Shopping on Thanksgiving Day? You in Or Out?

(NECN: Peter Howe, Salem, NH) If Black Friday can't come fast enough for you -- there's New Hampshire.

A state where there are no blue-laws restrictions forcing stores to close as there are in Massachusetts, this year you will see, for the first time in its 123-year history, Sears Roebuck stores opening on Thanksgiving Day to cater to shoppers, from 7 a.m. to noon.

"I'm actually very excited to see the business that comes in, because I think we'll actually do very well,'' said Tom Graves, who's managed the Sears at the Mall At Rockingham Park in Salem for three years. "The company decided that it was a great opportunity for our customers to get a little extra shopping in,'' Graves said.

Melanie Plante, a Fitchburg, Mass., native now living in New Hampshire, is down with that. Her plan with her sister and friends Thanksgiving Day: "We're going to camp out at Toys R Us for a little while, and then we're going to come over to Sears and then we go to Target. We're going everywhere.''

To others, starting Black Friday a day early just feels wrong. "You don't need to be shopping on Thanksgiving,'' said Gaynor Kohn, a Methuen, Mass., resident who was at WalMart in Salem Wednesday afternoon for pre-holiday shopping. "It's ridiculous. It's just ridiculous.''

Her son Michael Kohn, home from college and enjoying a shopping spree paid for by Mom, added: "Have turkey, watch the Pats beat the Lions, just enjoy the day. Thanksgiving and Christmas, no one should work those two days.''

But others insist "tax-free Thanksgiving shopping" ranks right up there with "Live free or die."
"I've been doing it for about 30 years now on Thanksgiving,'' said Cindy LaFrance of Salem, N.H. "K-Mart was always open, so we'd go there or Bradlee's, so now we just add Wal Mart.''
Justin Lemon of Hampstead, N.H., said he loves Thanksgiving shopping. "Absolutely, just one more reason to shop in New Hampshire, not in Massachusetts -- avoid the tax and all that,'' Lemon said.

In Massachusetts, "Blue Laws" still on the books from the Puritans and English colonists forbid stores to open on Thanksgiving and Christmas in the Bay State. The only exceptions are that convenience stores, pharmacies, and gas stations can choose to open if they want.

Joseph J. Bevilacqua, CEO of the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce in Lawrence, Mass., represents many Bay State border merchants who fight tooth and nail with New Hampshire. But he's never heard anyone complain about having to stay closed on Thanksgiving.

"There are certain holidays that belong to a family celebration, and Thanksgiving and Christmas, I think, are two of those,'' Bevilacqua said. Referring to New Hampshire stores opening then, Bevilacqua said, "I think people would really frown upon that here in Massachusetts."

"I don't tjhink our members really fear competition from New Hampshire because of the fact that they've had it forever,'' Bevilacqua said. This holiday season, many agree with national and New England predictions that spending will be up 2 to 4 percent from last year. "They're telling me they feel much better. They think the economy is turning here in Massachusetts.''
Some shoppers say they feel bad for store employees who will have to work on what, for most people, is a day of giving thanks, enjoying family and friends, eating, and watching football on TV.

"It's not fair to the people that are going to want to spend time with their family,'' said Jacqueline Russell of Haverhill, Mass., who said she thinks "family is the most important thing" about Thanksgiving.

But Tom Graves, the Sears manager in Salem, said he easily got about 55 to 60 employees to volunteer to work Thanksgiving. They get extra holiday pay, and because the store is open only from 7 a.m. to noon, "They'll be able to make some extra money, help sell some stuff -- which is the most important part -- and then spend the rest of the day with their family.''

"I had more people volunteer before and I had to go back and schedule any people" to work, Graves said. "That's an opportunity to get them some extra money so they can spend some extra money at Christmastime, so I think it's a good thing for them.''

With videographer Bob Ricci

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