When he read news reports about the backlash against retailers opening at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving last year, Brian Zarka figured this year would be different. But he didn't figure it would go the other way, with stores opening even earlier.
"I really thought that the press was going to motivate them to backtrack and go back to opening at midnight," he said. "(Instead) I saw the trend was moving in the direction of creeping more into Thanksgiving."
So the Ceres man decided to do something about it, adding his voice to those protesting the encroachment of retailers on the Thanksgiving holiday. He launched a "Boycott Black Thursday" event on Facebook, encouraging people to spend time with their families at home instead of shopping.
"I see it as the beginning of the end of Thanksgiving," Zarka said. "Stores are really trying to compete with each other to do this."
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Retailers that open earlier get consumers' shopping dollars sooner, said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst of The NPD Group Inc.
"It's no longer Christmas creep, it's the Christmas crush," Cohen said. Stores that extended their hours earlier gained up to 22 percent in sales over the Black Friday shopping period last year, while similar stores that did not extend their hours lost up to 8 percent, he said.
As of Tuesday, Zarka's event had nearly 700 "attendees." Other efforts have attracted even more fans. A petition started by Target employee Casey St. Clair -- called "Target: Take the High Road and Save Thanksgiving" -- had garnered 352,000 supporters as of Monday.
Some Wal-Mart workers at about 1,000 locations are organizing strikes to protest the early opening time Thursday, according to Making Change at Walmart, a coalition of employees, community groups and union members anchored by the United Food & Commercial Workers. A petition titled "Tell Walmart to Give Thanksgiving Back to Workers and Families!" started last week on SignOn.org, the online campaign platform of MoveOn.org, has more than 30,000 signatures.
Zarka said he realizes that protests such as his are unlikely to have much effect if the corporations continue to make money by opening earlier and earlier. And he said he knows that working on Thanksgiving isn't the worst thing in the world, particularly with unemployment rates still high.
"People that do have to work that day are grateful for their jobs," he said. "But Thanksgiving stands for everything that Black Friday stands against.
"We got to start somewhere small," he said. "We're just trying to do what we can to save Thanksgiving."
The Orange County Register contributed to this report.
Modesto Bee Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2343. Follow her on Twitter, @pattyguerra.