Charlotte malls open to shoppers on Thanksgiving Day at 6 p.m.

File photo: Shoppers walk through the entrance at Concord Mills when the doors open for Black Friday shopping.
File photo: Shoppers walk through the entrance at Concord Mills when the doors open for Black Friday shopping. The Charlotte Observer

Like it or not, Charlotte retailers again this year are opening their doors even before many families are sitting down for turkey and stuffing.

SouthPark, Carolina Place, Northlake and other area malls, including most of their anchor department stores, will open Thanksgiving Day at 6 p.m., with some remaining open through the night. In their annual attempt to lure shoppers, retailers will again be offering door-buster deals that are only available within stores.

Area shopping centers mostly have the same hours as last year, with the exception of Northlake Mall, which opens two hours earlier on Thanksgiving, and Rock Hill Galleria, which closes one hour later on Black Friday. While Thanksgiving hours previously varied mall to mall, they’re now mostly the same – and they’re the longest they’ve ever been.

But even though area malls are settling on the same Thanksgiving opening, some retailers are opting out. Dillard’s hasn’t yet opened stores on Thanksgiving Day, nor has Sur La Table. REI is taking it a step further. It will be closed on Black Friday but still will pay employees.

The longer hours are part of a shifting holiday retail landscape as people shop more online. Black Friday has lost some of its oomph since the shopping frenzy has extended into Thanksgiving Day, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.

But the season is still crucial for retailers, who rely on it for nearly one-fifth of their annual $3.2 trillion in sales, according to the National Retail Federation.

And as long as shoppers keep ditching their pumpkin pie and flag football for door-buster deals, stores may very well start opening even earlier on Thanksgiving.

“As long as people continue to line up all night before doors open, (retailers will) continue to move it back. We’re driving it; they’re not,” says Steve Cox, a marketing professor at Queens University of Charlotte.

Belk started opening its doors on Thanksgiving Day for the first time in 2013, citing shopper trends as reason for the move. That year, the retailer opened at 8 p.m., and last year, it moved the time even earlier, to 6 p.m.

Customer response to the 6 p.m. opening last year was strong, so Belk is doing it again this year, says spokeswoman Jessica Graham.

“While Thanksgiving has traditionally been a holiday centered around good food, family and friends, our customers have shown us that over the years that tradition has evolved into one that includes shopping and other activities that families enjoy together outside of the home,” says Graham.

Rival department store chain Dillard’s, however, hasn’t jumped on the early opening bandwagon. It is closed on Thanksgiving and opens at 8 a.m. on Black Friday.

“We choose to remain closed to give our associates time with their families before our busiest time of year,” says spokeswoman Julie Bull. “We find that our customers appreciate this as well.”

Nationwide, holiday sales this year are expected to rise 3.7 percent, slightly less than they did last year, the NRF said in a recent report. Slower sales mean retailers will fight even harder to draw in customers.

One way traditional malls do that is by enhancing the overall shopping experience, by making a mall visit more of an event. SouthPark mall is in the midst of a major facelift. The mall has also added more food options and kid-friendly destinations such as Lego and Disney stores.

SouthPark mall manager Randy Thomas says for the last couple of years when the mall was open on Thanksgiving, the turnout has been “huge.” For shoppers with family in town, it’s something to do. For people hoping to get holiday shopping done, it’s more than just buying things.

“That’s the beauty of a mall – the look, touch, feel and the social interaction,” Thomas says. “Some things you just can’t get online.”

At Monroe Crossing, which is open on Thursday from 6 p.m. to midnight and then Black Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., a manager must be on duty at all times, meaning the mall’s management team works in shifts.

Every year it gets crazy when retail tenants bump up their hours, says Sarah Eten, the mall’s marketing director.

“When tenants (started) opening up on Thanksgiving, I’ve been here before for like 32 hours,” Eten says. When that was the case, Eten adds, she took naps in her office to stay sharp.

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta

Malls and hours

Here’s a rundown of when Charlotte-area malls are open this year over Thanksgiving:

▪ SouthPark mall: 6 p.m. Thursday to 1 a.m.; open Friday 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

▪ Concord Mills: 6 p.m. Thursday to 9:30 p.m. Friday.

▪ Charlotte Premium Outlets: 6 p.m. Thursday to 10 p.m. Friday.

▪ Carolina Place Mall: 6 p.m. Thursday to midnight; open Friday 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

▪ Eastridge Mall: 6 p.m. Thursday to 10 p.m. Friday.

▪ Monroe Crossing: 6 p.m. to midnight; open Friday 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

▪ Rock Hill Galleria: 6 p.m. Thursday to 10 p.m. Friday.

▪ Northlake Mall: 6 p.m. Thursday to midnight; open Friday 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.