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Shoppers express mixed feelings about Thanksgiving store hours

Alexis Howard pushed a cart and mop bucket through the Walden Galleria Thanksgiving night, picking up trash and emptying garbage cans in a crisp, green uniform emblazoned with her employer’s name, DTZ.

All of her family members had to work that night, too, so she had eaten her holiday dinner at a friend’s house earlier. By the time she left work at 7 a.m., she would have worked 13 hours. Only then would she be able to pick up her 1-year-old daughter from a baby-sitter.

How did she feel about cleaning the mall all night during the holiday?

“Well, I’m here,” she said. “It pays the bills.”

Selin Ogultekin lives in Rochester but goes to school and works in Buffalo. She packed up her Thanksgiving leftovers before the rest of her family had even finished eating and was in the car by 4:30 p.m. in order to make the trip back and lift the gates at Customized Tees in the Galleria by 6 p.m.

“My time at home got cut short, but it’s OK,” Ogultekin said. “I just wish Black Friday would go back to Friday.”

This is the new Thanksgiving for thousands of retail workers across Western New York.

Retailers, competing to be consumers’ primary holiday shopping destination, have pushed Black Friday opening times so much earlier that some open as early as 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

There has been an outcry over what many see as the desecration of a sacred family holiday.

Many Thanksgiving shoppers themselves agree store employees shouldn’t be forced to work on Thanksgiving, even hard-core bargain hunters like Ashley Ponte from Hamilton, Ont., who arrived at Best Buy in Amherst at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday for the store’s 5 p.m. Thursday opening. She wore a full snowsuit and slept in a tent with heater. She was after a 50-inch Panasonic TV priced at $199. The same model was $799 at Best Buy in Canada, cut to $550 for Black Friday.

“We just can’t get prices like that back home,” she said.

Ponte feels employees should be given incentives to work – extra days off, gift cards, something beyond holiday pay – and if enough employees don’t volunteer, management should have to work instead. That’s how it worked when she was a Home Depot employee in Canada.

“Management gets paid very well to be there,” she said. “Hourly workers do not.”

Gord Gemmell of Thorold, Ont., feels bad, too, but he couldn’t pass up Beats by Dr. Dre headphones for $79. He showed up at 11 p.m. Tuesday night to camp out in front of Target in Amherst with his 14-year-old daughter.

“I already had my turkey in October,” he said, clapping his Maple Leafs-mittened hands together for warmth. “I have four kids I have to shop for.”

Yes, many local shoppers were Canadians whose national Thanksgiving holiday had already come and gone. But there were plenty of American shoppers to keep them company.

Karen Huetter of the Town of Tonawanda has camped out for sales for 10 years with her family. She is not a fan of Black Friday taking over Thanksgiving, but shifted her family’s dinner to Wednesday to accommodate it.

“This is our family tradition,” she said.

She and her grown daughters will be shopping straight through until Friday night, she said.

“I do feel sorry for the workers,” Huetter said. “I’m not downright evil.”

Many shoppers said hitting doorbuster sales on Thanksgiving is the only way they can afford Christmas presents for their families. Some say it’s a time to bond with family, and a way to cap off the holiday after dinner. Others say it’s just plain fun.

“We have a great time,” said Ann DiPasquale of North Tonawanda, who was in line outside Kohl’s on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst, along with her mom and about 200 other people waiting for the doors to open at 6 p.m. “It’s fun to hang out. We were singing Christmas carols.”

Janet Tuck of Welland, Ont., agreed.

“We meet so many nice people,” she said. “I’ve seen people this year that I remember from last year. We’re like old friends.”

Black Friday shopping is an American ritual in itself, said Ross Steinman, a professor at Widener University in Pennsylvania who specializes in the psychology of marketing.

“People want to feel like they’re a part of something,” Steinman said. “They like the festive atmosphere and being around people having the same experience. It’s exciting.”

Patty Service and her daughter Meghan Wilcox were in town from Herkimer County to spend time with family in West Seneca. They ate Thanksgiving dinner at 2:30 p.m. and were looking for something to do together afterwards, so they ended up in the Walden Galleria.

She felt guilty about visiting the mall, but curiosity got the better of her and she wanted to see how many people would show up. The Galleria had made national news by obligating stores to open on the holiday, and she wanted to see if that would keep people away.

It didn’t. The mall wasn’t empty, but it wasn’t as busy as a typical Black Friday, either.

“I’m contributing to the problem by being here. I’m adding to the pressure to keep these stores open,” she said. “People should be able to go one day without shopping.”

Meghan, her daughter, thought it was odd that store employees weren’t saying, “Happy Thanksgiving,” but, “Have a good night.”

“It’s like they didn’t want to remind you what day it is or something,” she said.

Shoppers said they are still getting used to the idea of the new Black Friday, and are coming to terms with what it means to each of them individually.

Tammy Larkin of Hamilton said she feels for employees forced to work but doesn’t understand why others are so critical of those who choose to shop on Thanksgiving.

“Each to his own. If you don’t want to bother with it, don’t come,” Larkin said.