Denny Magers feels as if he has a target on his back on Thanksgiving.
His bookstore, Magers & Quinn in Uptown, has been open on the national holiday for the past 13 years. When big retailers like Wal-Mart and Target started opening on Thanksgiving evenings a few years ago, customers started to complain to Magers about his holiday hours.
"If people are going to going to give us grief for being open, it's not worth it," Magers said.
Magers started staying open on Thanksgiving after employees who were single or didn't have family nearby floated the idea.
"We did it on a whim," he said. "We added a 20 percent storewide discount as an incentive to bring people in."
The work is voluntary; seven of the store's nearly 50 employees will be on the job from noon to 7 Thursday. "It would be foolish to say that employees have to be here or they'd lose their job," Magers said. "I'd lose good people if I did that."
Employees are paid time-and-a-half, as are more than 80 percent of Thanksgiving Day workers around the U.S., according to a Bloomberg survey.
For years, customers seemed to enjoy that Magers & Quinn provided a diversion on Thanksgiving Day. But then, the big retailers moved their Black Friday sales into Thursday and customers began to see the neighborhood store in a different light.
"When we sent out an e-mail blast two years ago that we were open on Thanksgiving, we got a couple of really heated e-mails about it," store manager Jessi Blackstock said. "People were coming in saying, 'I'm so sorry you have to be open.' "
Callie Cochran of New London, Wis., who shopped in the bookstore last week, said she was opposed to Magers & Quinn being open on Thanksgiving, at first. "I never shop on Thanksgiving or Black Friday," she said. "We're already so consumer-driven that we've lost perspective."
But after learning the store's history and that employees aren't required to work, she said, "Small independents are different from department stores and big box stores. If it's their tradition, I say continue it."
Bigger retailers aren't as flexible with employees. Kmart, which opens at 6 a.m. Thursday, has been criticized in social media for expecting all employees to work and giving short notice of holiday shifts. Target, Toys 'R' Us and Macy's, which have also experienced criticism on social media, have not retreated from being open on Thanksgiving, but they did not extend their hours this year. Staples and H&M decided to close on Thanksgiving this year. REI went one step further and will be closed on Black Friday too.
At Magers & Quinn, scheduling is "chaotic," Blackstock says, because many employees have other careers as writers, graduate students, teachers or band members. "I fly by the seat of my pants to make it work," she said. "People work here because we're very flexible with scheduling."
Blackstock never works Thanksgiving Day herself. "It's the one holiday my parents insist I attend," she said.
Employees who have worked a Thanksgiving shift describe it as a loose vibe.
"People come in a good mood to talk and browse," said Dave Graff, an employee since 2008. Most of the customers live in the neighborhood and walk to the store before or after a big meal. "Business peaks at 2 and 6. The early eaters come in after dinner and the late eaters come in before," he said.
Ty Richardson of Minneapolis, who shopped at the store last week, said he'll be back on Thanksgiving. "It's a long, full day off, and I like to be in a bookstore when I have a day off," he said.
Longtime customer Eric Lorberer of Minneapolis is another regular at the bookstore on Thanksgiving. The editor of the literary review Raintaxi.com walks 14 blocks to the bookstore and the neighborhood movie theaters as long as the weather is good. "Going to a bookstore is like going to a movie for me," he said. "They're gathering places that have an artistic and entertainment aspect."
Magers, who opened the store in 1994, said sales have been up and down on the holiday. Sales are bigger than on a regular day but the last two years have been "just OK."
Cord Himelstein, a vice president at Michael C. Fina, which supports reward and recognition programs at Fortune 1000 companies, thinks the bookstore's model is a great idea.
He said critics who sound off about the bookstore being open on a holiday probably haven't experienced it.
"This is a bookstore with a sense of family, like the one that Meg Ryan had in 'You've Got Mail,' " he said.