Shopping at the Mall on Thanksgiving Day: It Could Turn Into a Party!

  • Outside Toys R Us, Times Square, New York. Photo; Richard Davies
    Outside Toys R Us, Times Square, New York. Photos by Richard Davies

Both support and backlash are growing over this year’s expanded plans by Toys R Us, Walmart, Target, and some other big retailers to start their Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving Day.

Support, because consumers want to shop and retailers need to fight back against online competition.  Backlash, because many store employees don’t want to work on the holiday.

It’s a great subject for debate.  

I have sympathy for Amber Baumgart, a Simon Malls employee from Green Bay,  Wisconsin, who had the guts to start a campaign against stores opening on the holiday.

“This is a time for families to come together and enjoy a meal. To catch up. To have fun,” says Baumgart in her petition.  “Why are mall employees any different?”

But companies are in business to meet customer demand. According to a poll for the National Retail Federation nearly one in four people say they plan to shop on Thanksgiving Day.

This holiday shopping trend is not confined to big box stores. In the New York City neighborhood where I live Taki and Taso Mastakouris will be open on Thanksgiving.

Taki Mastakouris at Mani Market
Taki Mastakouris at Mani Marketplace

Mani Marketplace is open 365 days a year.  People around here see this lively little food store as an important resource that supplies daily essentials to a diverse community with a broad range of tastes.

“We take care of our workers so they are willing to work,” says Taki.

The argument over Thanksgiving Day shopping is not simply about corporate greed or changing long-established traditions.

Richard Feinberg, a professor at the Department of Consumer Sciences and Retailing at Purdue University  said today’s arguments about Thanksgiving are similar to the debate over Sunday shopping years ago.

“Most of the employees who have talked to me said it’s a way for them to make money,” he told  “And they would rather do that than see their retailer go out of business.”

The newsroom where I work is up and running 24/7.  Thanksgiving will be no exception.

Those who are opposed to holiday openings could be fighting a losing battle. More than ever American work hours are no longer confined to Monday-Friday.

According to The American Time Use Survey compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 34% of employed people now work on weekends.

And more thing about shopping on the holidays. If you plan to spend at least a couple of days with your relatives during the holiday, couldn’t you use a break?

“Teenagers and college students can spend only so much time cooped up with their families on a holiday like Thanksgiving,” writes Elizabeth Harris in The New York Times.

At 8pm on Thanksgiving the mall could turn into a fun place to be. “It’s like a built-in social occasion to get out of the house,” a retail analyst told The Times.

Woah, party on dudes. Me? I’ll be running out for sugar or butter or some other last minute at  Mani Marketplace.


Walmart Workers Plan Black Friday Protests

24/7 Wall St.

WMT strike Black Friday 2012In the second year of labor protests against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT), organizers are saying they expect protests and strikes at more 1,500 U.S. Walmart stores on Black Friday. The organization planning the protests is the Organization United for Respect at Walmart — or OUR Walmart — which is supported by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW).

At last year’s Black Friday protests, there were protest actions at about 1,200 stores involving approximately 30,000 people in 46 states.

According to OUR Walmart, the protesters and strikers are demanding an end to illegal retaliation and a commitment from Walmart to improving working standards, such as giving workers more full-time jobs paying at least $25,000 a year. That works out to about $12 an hour, still below the $15 an hour that workers at McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE: MCD) sought earlier this year.

On Monday the National Labor Relations…

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Why Wall Street Fat Cats Don’t Always Win

Are your ready for this?  On Wall Street at least outsiders are beating the fat cats.

Yup. The kind of humble low-fee mutual fund that all savers have access to may be the best place to watch your money grow.

Most index funds easily outperform expensive, exclusive hedge funds. And they have been doing so for the past 5 years.

So millions of middle-class savers with 401K plans are getting much better returns on their investments than billionaires who have handed over the cash to high-paid private fund managers.

Last month the S&P 500 – the benchmark for many mutual funds – rose  3 times as much as the typical hedge fund, according to Hennessee Hedge Fund Index.

Kind of builds on what I was suggesting about Twitter in my last post, and what investment writer Tim Lee says in “A New Case for Index Investing,” a smart column today in US News and World Report.

It’s easy to make the case that many high-paid Wall Street experts really don’t know what they’re talking about.

In an age when the super-rich are gobbling up an ever larger share of household earnings, and insider-trading scandals occupy the business headlines, it’s comforting to know the big money crowd doesn’t have a monopoly on valuable information.

I am not suggesting there is no such thing as a savvy, sage investment advisor. Many do a great job for their clients.

But when it comes to beating the market,  the cold hard numbers show that the boastful claims of many stock pickers don’t add up.

And so it goes with politics and our cultural life. Elites often don’t have  all the answers. A willingness to reach out to broader circles of information, beyond our comfort zones, can boost our returns!

Twitter IPO – Don’t Tell Me You Know What This Stock Is Worth!

From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository
From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

What’s really fun about following the stock market is watching what a wild, emotional, fascinating and utterly human place it is.

Almost every day I’m tempted to change my mind about where a business or even the market itself is heading next.  I am not alone.

The exciting launch of the Twitter IPO is the latest whacky example.  Investors appear to have fallen out of love with the micro-blogging, messaging, keep-it-brief internet firm in less than one day!

After blasting out of the starting gate with a stunning 73% gain on its first euphoric day of trading,  the mood soured  the next day. Twitter lost more than 7% in a single session.  The stock may have a lot further to drop.

“Twitter investors are valuing the company at the same level as LinkedIn, even though LinkedIn generates twice as much revenue,” wrote Peter Kafka of AllThingsD, who echoed what many traders and analysts are saying.

“No one has a clue” what the value of Twitter really is, said Felix Salmon of Reuters in this wonderful post about the folly of picking a price. “Not even the underwriters, who had to raise the valuation of the company twice.”

During the summer Anant Sundaram, a finance professor and valuation expert at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business estimated that Twitter was worth between $5 billion and $7.8 billion.  At the current share price of $43 the firm’s market cap is more than $23 billion.

“The valuation that everybody really wants to know is of course what is Twitter’s stock price going to be,” said Tim Worstall in Forbes.  The trouble with that is despite its astounding success in the past few years the future for Twitter and so many other firms is impossible to predict.

There is a large field of research on mutual funds showing conclusively “that active managers do not enhance returns,” says the wise investment writer Dan Solin.  Most of these highly paid guys do not beat the market. Savers who invest in low fee index funds that track the S&P 500 and other stock averages are usually better off than those who pick actively managed funds.

The emperor has not clothes, perhaps?

Yes, Wall Street is at times  a place of greed, cynicism and bravado. But many well known investment professionals are more often wrong than right.

As in many other fields the wisest players are usually those who take a step back from daily events. They’ve figured out that a little humility about predicting human behavior works best.