By Erica Hanger
Malina Lambach does not relish Black Friday.
“Imagine having to practically inhale your Thanksgiving dinner, say your goodbyes to your family and not be able to spend the rest of your holiday in a food coma like everybody else,” said Lambach, a sales associate whose 12-hour shift at Saks Fifth Avenue OFF Fifth at Woodbury Common Premium Outlets in Central Valley, N.Y., began at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving, three hours before the store officially opened.
Every year thousands of shoppers from all over the tri-state area flock to Woodbury Common, a 220-store mall, for door buster deals that begin at midnight on Thanksgiving. However, some larger department stores, including Saks, require employees to arrive even earlier on Thanksgiving Day to prepare for the shopping madness. While many people hunt for bargains and prepare wish lists, retail employees must leave the holiday dinner table, whether they want to or not, to organize clothing racks and ensure that merchandise is fully stocked and neatly arranged.
“Leaving my family and cutting my Thanksgiving short every year to go to work is heartbreaking,” says Lambach, 32, an eight-year Saks veteran who works in the women’s designer department.
Saks Fifth Avenue at Woodbury Common employs 40 year-round employees, but for the holiday season it hires an additional 40 to 50 employees. The mall itself employs 3,000 workers during the holiday season, up from the 1,600 to 2,000 who work the rest of the year. Across the U.S retailers hired nearly 43,000 seasonal workers this year, a 16 percent increase from 2010.
More people are also shopping. “Despite the economy, Black Friday at the Commons gets busier and busier every year,” said Deidre Harris, the human resource manager at Saks who has worked at the store for 11 years. “With nearly 100 employees working 12-hour shifts on Black Friday, we can still hardly keep up.” Hiring more employees is not an option, though, says Harris, as company regulations do not allow the store to exceed a total of 120 employees.
“It’s still just as busy as the year before, but I’ve noticed customers bringing in additional coupons and reward cards compared to years ago,” said Ebony Howard, a sales associate who has worked at Saks for the past six years, adding that impulse shopping is down and customers are, “buying only what is on their list.”
“For the past five years, I’ve shopped Black Friday at the Commons,” said Silvia Young, a medical receptionist from Yonkers. A single mother, Young was shopping at Saks for clothing deals for her three teenage daughters. “But in recent years I’ve been on a tight budget, I only buy what I need, like a few things from my three teenage daughters’ Christmas list and small gifts for relatives. I still get great deals on clothes and shoes, but end up cutting out luxury products like expensive jewelry or handbags.”