EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 14, 2012

In Massachusetts, blue laws hamper holiday store hours

Many NH stores open on Thanksgiving

By Bill Kirk bkirk@eagletribune.com
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — In New Hampshire, Wal-Mart in Derry is opening its doors at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

In Massachusetts, shoppers will have to wait until Friday at 1 a.m. to go discount shopping at the big-box retailer at The Loop in Methuen.

Sears, meanwhile, located in The Mall at Rockingham Park in Salem, N.H., is opening at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

In Massachusetts, however, shoppers will have to wait until 12:30 a.m. to get a crack at Sears merchandise.

Across the country, major retailers are touting Thanksgiving Day openings to lure cost-conscious shoppers through their doors, except in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine, where so-called ‘‘blue laws” mostly prohibit stores from opening on Sundays and major holidays.

In those three states, people will have to wait until Black Friday — the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season.

The time differences are confusing to customers, perplexing to some politicians and downright silly to many retail organizations.

“Are we stopping people from shopping or are we just stopping them from shopping in Massachusetts?” asked Jon Hurst, president of the Massachusetts Retailers Association. “What is the case in 47 states isn’t the case in three New England states.”

He blamed the blue laws, saying they aren’t keeping up with smart-phone technology, where people can purchase products 24 hours a day from anywhere in the world.

“It’s a law that should be totally repealed or totally rewritten,” Hurst said.

That’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

The Massachusetts Legislature would have to rewrite the law, which would have to be signed by the governor, but the Legislature is out of session, meaning it’s not something that will come up until next year, at the earliest.

“I think, from a border community perspective, it’s a good idea” to repeal the law, said Linda Dean Campbell, a Democratic state representative from Methuen. “I’m very supportive of it. Abolishment of the laws would help border communities.”

She added, “it’s an anachronistic law when you have online shopping.”

But Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, said he hasn’t heard a peep from constituents regarding the blue laws.

“Call me old-fashioned, but I think Thanksgiving is meant for family, not shopping,” said Finegold, whose wife is in retail. “I’m against repealing the blue law.”

He noted, “everybody wants to be the first group to get the customers. But at what point does it stop? You might as well be open all day on Thanksgiving. Pretty soon, they’ll be open all day on Christmas, too.”

Finegold said if he starts getting a lot of calls and emails, he may reconsider his position.

“If I get a lot of calls that people want to shop at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, we can look at it,” he said. “But now, I’m not getting any calls or any emails from anyone who wants to shop on Thanksgiving Day.”

For retailers, the blue laws are something they have to comply with, even though they know it may put some of their stores at a disadvantage.

“We have to comply with all local ordinances, but we know however that customers prefer to shop on Thanksgiving and told us they want to shop earlier,” said Bill Wertz, a spokesman for Wal-Mart. “That’s why we are starting our special bargains for Black Friday at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. In Massachusetts, those things will happen at 1 a.m.”

Further, he said, employees and store managers “are excited. This is a fun time of year.”

He added, “we’ve been open on Thanksgiving Day since 1988.”

While it’s nothing new to Wal-Mart, earlier openings are a change for many retailers.

Sears, for example, which opened last year at 4 a.m. on Black Friday, is opening its doors at The Mall at Rockingham Park at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

“This will apply to all Sears nationwide except in Massachusetts, Maine and Rhode Island,” said Cindy Hall, manager of The Mall at Rockingham Park, a Simons Malls property. “For New Hampshire, that’s particularly important because two of our key border states will not be open.”

She noted that the mall is taking its lead from Sears and also opening early — at midnight instead of at 4 a.m. like last year.

In Massachusetts, however, the mall, as well as Sears, aren’t opening until 12:30 a.m. on Friday.

The New Hampshire store hours are based on results from last year, she said.

“We critique our performance each year from retailers and customers. Those who did not open early regretted it,” she said.

She noted that in discussions with her counterparts in Massachusetts, the biggest “point of differentiation between the two states is that we are tax-free. That’s a point of distinction for the New Hampshire mall. We have that flexibility. And we have further flexibility with the timeline. That’s another advantage.”

To keep up with others starting early, Salem stores such as Toys R Us opens at 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving. That’s two hours earlier than last year, employee Joseph Albert said.

“It’s fun, I enjoy doing it,” he said. “It can mess up your Thanksgiving, but we plan on it.”

Some New Hampshire restaurants are also opening their doors early to serve hungry shoppers.

They include Priscilla’s Restaurant on North Broadway in Salem, which opens at 5 a.m. on Thanksgiving and will remain open for 72 hours straight, owner Priscilla Henshaw said.

“I’m excited, I’m looking forward to it,” she said yesterday. “It will be a 72-hour marathon.”

Henshaw and 13 family members celebrated Thanksgiving last night so they will be able to pitch in and help.

Although the restaurant is usually open on Thanksgiving anyway, it typically closes at 2 p.m., Henshaw said.

The restaurant owner said she’s looking forward to challenge and being able to pull in a little extra cash to make tough economic times a little less difficult.

Henshaw said she doesn’t mind working Thanksgiving Day.

“My excitement is just seeing the customers come in,” she said. “They are awesome.”

Staff writer Doug Ireland contributed to this report.