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Thanksgiving shopping quickly becoming a tradition

Laura Sen, chief executive of BJ’s, said, “I think Thanksgiving is a lovely holiday and not the time to be shopping.”

Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

Laura Sen, chief executive of BJ’s, said, “I think Thanksgiving is a lovely holiday and not the time to be shopping.”

Bargain hunters eager to score holiday shopping deals may want to eat their turkey dinners on the run Thursday. Stores will be open in much of New England and the country, with some offering doorbuster discounts even before the sun rises.

Thanksgiving day shoppers can hit New Hampshire Kmarts at 6 a.m., swing by the Old Navy in Nashua at 9 a.m., and roam the aisles at a Walmart any time; the chain’s Granite State locations will be open 24 hours on Thanksgiving. Similarly early starts will play out in Connecticut and Vermont. But not in Massachusetts, where ancient Blue Laws keep retailers from opening on the holiday.

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A few major chains, including a couple based here, are resisting a trend that threatens to turn Thanksgiving into another shopping day. The companies say they place more value on family time than expanded store hours.

“It’s commercialism and consumerism to a point we’re not willing to endorse,” said Laura Sen, chief executive of BJ’s Wholesale Club Inc. “Call me old-fashioned, but I think Thanksgiving is a lovely holiday and not the time to be shopping.”

Sen said the Westborough-based discounter won’t open any of its 201 locations in 15 states until 7 a.m. Friday, when she expects BJ’s stores to quickly fill with customers who stayed home or visited relatives the day before. Typically, she said, BJ’s has done “tons of sales on Black Friday.”

TJX Cos., the Framingham parent of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, and HomeGoods, says it, too, will hold off until Friday morning. Chief executive Carol Meyrowitz called her company “associate-friendly” and said she was “pleased to give [employees] the time to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends.”

The upscale department store chain Nordstrom also will wait until Black Friday to ring in the shopping season. Signs displayed in its stores nationwide read, “We won’t be decking our halls until Nov. 29. Why? We just like the idea of celebrating one holiday at a time.”

And earlier this month, Apple Inc. chief executive Tim Cook overruled a decision by his marketing directors, who wanted to open Apple stores in some prime locations for Thanksgiving.

In Massachusetts, chains such as Kohl’s, Macy’s, Target, and Walmart plan to open by 1 a.m. Friday — technically complying with the Blue Laws. Maine and Rhode Island also place restrictions on holiday store openings.

Shopping on Thanksgiving is quickly becoming a tradition. Last year, 35 million Americans shopped on the holiday, up 23 percent from 2011 and 58 percent from 2010, according to the National Retail Federation. While many consumers are not ready to embrace the concept, stores like having a chance to jump-start holiday sales, and some analysts say Thanksgiving could eventually surpass Black Friday in popularity.

They are also skeptical of retailers’ motives for staying closed until Friday morning. For certain companies, they say, taking a pass on the opportunity to attract Thanksgiving business is more about being practical than altruistic.

“They weren’t going to be busy anyway,” said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst with the NPD Group, a market research firm in New York. Cohen explained that companies like TJX don’t rely on the kind of limited-time deals that drive traffic to other stores. That means they have less to gain by adding hours and incurring additional operational costs on Thanksgiving.

BJ’s tried a Thanksgiving opening in 2006 and found customers didn’t respond enthusiastically.

Regardless of the underlying reasons why some retailers are opting out of Thursday openings, Cohen said it gives them a chance to say they cherish family values and win the favor of consumers who don’t want to disrupt long-practiced holiday routines. A University of Connecticut survey released Monday found 49 percent of adults disapprove of Thanksgiving Day store openings.

More frequently, anti-Thanksgiving-shopping advocates are making their views known through social media networks. Jordana Bishop of Raynham started a Facebook group called “Boycott Shopping on Thanksgiving Day.” The group’s page plays off Santa’s “naughty or nice” list by assigning retailers to one of the two categories based on whether they plan to be open or shut. Bishop said people should realize that when they patronize stores early, it means workers stocking shelves and manning registers are losing out.

She worries the trend might spread to Christmas and other holidays.

“I honestly get so sad thinking about all the people that are going to miss out on their Thanksgiving,” Bishop said. “That family time is gone now.”

Change.org, an online petition platform, had posted more than 227,000 signatures by late Tuesday asking stores to remain closed on Thanksgiving. One petition specifically targeting Simon Property Group — owner of 18 New England malls — had been signed 28,000 times.

Cohen said some brick-and-mortar stores started creeping into Thanksgiving Day as a defensive strategy in response to a surge in Internet sales on the holiday.

“If you were the CEO of any retailer and you didn’t open [on Thanksgiving], but all the others did and they had good business, you better have a really good excuse for it,” Cohen said.

Sen said she doesn’t need an excuse to keep the lights off at BJ’s stores Thursday.

“I really believe that people will appreciate our respecting their time and their families and holidays,” she said. “We still have great deals, and they don’t have to come on Thanksgiving to get them.”

Not all blue for businesses on Thanksgiving

If you discover Thursday that you need an extra pound of potatoes or a pound of butter, you’re out of luck if you go to a supermarket: It will be closed, thanks to state restrictions on business openings on legal holidays, also known as the Blue Laws. But not everything will be closed. Indeed, the law meticulously spells out which operations will not be prohibited. (Of course, whether those businesses operate is up to the owner.)

FLORISTS

“The sale at retail of growing plants, trees or bushes, and articles incidental to the cultivation of such plants, trees or bushes; and the retail sale and delivery of cut flowers.”

GALLERIES

“The opening of art galleries or the display and sale therein of paintings, objects of art, catalogues and pictures.”

SHOE-SHINING

“The carrying on of the business of bootblack before eleven o’clock in the morning, provided that such business may be carried on at any time at public airports.”

AMUSEMENT DEVICES

“The transport of amusement devices, such as carousels, ferris wheels, inclined railways and other similar devices, concessions stands and tents from one location to the next between eight o’clock in the forenoon and one o’clock in the afternoon.”

SOURCE: Mass. General Law, Part I, Title XX, Chapter 136, Section 6

Taryn Luna can be reached at taryn.luna@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @tarynluna.
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