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Macy’s to break with tradition, open Thanksgiving at 8 p.m.: employees

Macy's State Street store Loop | (AP Photo/Brian Kersey File)

Macy's State Street store in the Loop | (AP Photo/Brian Kersey, File)

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Updated: November 15, 2013 6:26AM

Macy’s will break a 155-year tradition of staying closed on Thanksgiving Day this holiday by opening at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, employees at some Chicago-area stores said Sunday.

The department store will remain open for 24 straight hours, according to five employees at Macy’s flagship store at 111 N. State St. All of them said their bosses had told them to be prepared to work that night; one employee said she received a memo Thursday stating the store would open on Thanksgiving at 8 p.m.

Macy’s employees at Water Tower Place and Westfield Old Orchard shopping center in Skokie also said those stores open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, but they did not know how long the hours extended.

By doing so, Macy’s joins a growing list of retailers getting a jump on “Black Friday” sales that kick off the Christmas season. As much as three-quarters of some retailers’ sales occur during the winter holidays.

Macy’s spokeswoman Lauren Rapisand would neither confirm nor deny that Chicago-area stores — or any of the other stores nationwide — will be open Thanksgiving. She said the company is set to announce its Thanksgiving plans this week.

The employees — most asked not to be named — expressed mixed emotions, ranging from excitement to resignation that Macy’s is in cut-throat competition for sales on “Black Friday,” the day that retailers hope their budgets turn from red ink to black ink — in other words, turn a profit.

“I love it — it will give me an extra 20 hours of work,” said Sharay Johnson, a part-time saleswoman for Chicago cosmetics company Fashion Fair.

She said she expects to work from 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving night to 5 a.m. Friday and then again from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday.

Another employee had the opposite view.

“I want to be with my family,” said the employee who asked not to be named. She said she hopes to stay off a list of randomly selected workers who will report for Thanksgiving duty.

Another worker who asked not to be named said Thanksgiving is less a family holiday than in the past, especially since so many stores open for door-buster promotions on Black Friday. She said she spent last Thanksgiving away at school and worked on Black Friday at another retailer.

Other workers said they thought Thanksgiving hours enhance customer service and they will do as they are told in order to keep their jobs.

For the past two years, Macy’s has opened its 800 stores nationwide at midnight following Thanksgiving to compete with retailers that opened at least part of Thanksgiving day, such as Walmart, Gap, Kmart, Sears, Old Navy, Target and Toys R Us.

Experts say shoppers will be stingy and go for deep discounts this holiday, with forecasters predicting a 2 percent to 3 percent sales gain from last year.

“It’s probably smart for Macy’s to be open” because of the competition and shoppers’ excitement about finding deals, said Britt Beemer, founder and chairman of America’s Research Group, based in Charleston, S.C.

Macy’s challenge will be to get shoppers revved up about sales on jewelry and clothes when most of the buzz and long lines focus on computers and electronics, Beemer said Sunday.

It’s worth a try because 91 percent of Americans — up from 61 percent in 2005 — say a holiday early-bird special is “a really big deal,” Beemer said.

The deal drama is prompted partly by the poor economy.

“One-third of Americans in our survey earlier this year said at least one person in their family is either unemployed, has been moved to part-time work or is working at a job that pays less than a previous job,” Beemer said.

Macy’s also has history on its side: Its predecessor store’s founder’s son, Fred Lazarus, is credited with convincing then-President Franklin Roosevelt to change the Thanksgiving holiday from the last Thursday of November to the fourth Thursday to extend the Christmas shopping season. Congress approved the change in 1941, according to Macy’s history timeline.

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