Breaking one of retailing's last taboos, K mart Corp. opened most of its stores for business on Thanksgiving Day for the first time ever -- drawing bargain hunters as well as those seeking a rTC respite from turkey, televised football and pesky relatives.
"Stores are under so much pressure now that there's only one day left that remains sacrosanct, and that's Christmas," said Alan Millstein, publisher of the retail industry journal Fashion Network Report.
"But I guess football widows and husbands besieged by their mothers-in-law will be delighted to get away and go shopping."
Although many grocery stores, some gas stations, drugstores and convenience markets remained open on Thanksgiving, apparently no other major full-line retailer followed K mart's move.
By midday yesterday, several K mart stores were reporting a good response to the opening.
"Store traffic is very good; we are even getting some tourists from Disneyland," said Mike Hawkins, general manager of the K mart in Garden Grove, Calif.
A Thanksgiving opening was one of the second-largest retailer's ways of seeking a competitive edge amid a sluggish economy that experts predict could produce one of the worst Christmas shopping seasons in years.
Other big retailers are pursuing other strategies. Sears, for example, is boosting spending on print and electronic advertising and is counting on a promotional tie-in with the hit movie "E.T." to help boost holiday sales.
"We wanted to give our customers additional opportunities to shop, since there are fewer shopping days this season," Mary Lorenz, a K mart spokeswoman, said.
Thanksgiving Day falls on the final Thursday of the month this year. Thus, there will be only 26 "official" holiday shopping days, compared to 32 in 1990.
K mart and other retailers are also nervous about the upcoming holiday season because tightfisted consumers are hardly spending because of a lack of confidence in the economy and fears about job security.
They are especially concerned in California, where a wave of layoffs in the aerospace, retailing, finance, insurance and real estate industries has hit virtually every important segment of the region's economy.
Some experts had predicted that more and more retailers would stay open on weekends and holidays to serve the growing number of dual-income families who have too little time to shop during the week. But that has yet to materialize.