Some grocery stores will be open on Thanksgiving, looking forward to you desperately buying some dinner ingredients at the last minute. Trader Joe’s will not be among them.
The company’s website states that the national chain has been closed for more than 30 years, so employees “can spend Thanksgiving with family and friends.” But this is not always the case. For decades, under the leadership of founder Joe Coulombe, the national chain has been open for Thanksgiving, allowing many employees to work during the holidays.
According to the memoir “Becoming Trader Joe” published by Cullenby one year after his death in 2020, the reason has nothing to do with food, but with drinks. Specifically, wine.
Coulombe opened the first Trader Joe’s in Pasadena, California in 1967. Initially, he wrote that he kept the store open during Thanksgiving to compete with larger chains: most of the grocery stores around him were closed, and staying open gave his small store a competitive advantage, even if he had to Pay employees three times the salary.
By 1975, most national supermarkets were also operating as usual on major holidays—eliminating this competitive advantage. However, although many supermarkets are known for their food, Trader Joe’s used high-quality, affordable wine sales to succeed in the early days. Coulombe writes that although Christmas is a “bad wine day”, Thanksgiving is “a wine day much bigger than Christmas (which, shockingly, is a very good day of spirits).”
Therefore, despite the limited operating hours and increased wages, the shops are still open. It developed into a tradition: At that time, all members of the Trader Joe management team, including Coulombe, were working in the store. Today, this is a relatively well-known practice-for example, the executives of the chain restaurant Waffle House work in their restaurants during the holidays.
“This is not just a policy,” Njeri Boss, vice president of public relations at Waffle House, told CNBC Make It. “This is the cornerstone of our culture.
Whole Foods Market said that “many” of its stores will be open on Thanksgiving this year and “adjusted opening hours,” while most of the Kroger supermarket chain stores will be open until 5 pm during the holidays. Convenience chains Walgreens and CVS will also open.
But staying open during holidays like Thanksgiving can be tricky: the sales you are after may almost exceed the high cost of paying workers overtime to stay open.
Shoppers around Thanksgiving have “fixed needs,” Craig Johnson, president of retail consulting firm Customer Growth Partners, told Reuters in 2018. In other words, stores closed on Thanksgiving are likely to make up for the sales they missed the day before or the day after.
After Coulombe retired in 1988, Trader Joe’s began to close on Thanksgiving. He wrote that, in retrospect, it was a wise decision of the company’s management team.
“Today, it is impossible for retailers to differentiate through long hours of work,” he wrote, adding: “This is the right move, and it should have been done long ago.”
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