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Walmart will be closed on Thanksgiving for first time in decades

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The COVID-19 pandemic, which has already transformed the way Americans shop, is set up upend yet another retail tradition: the Black Friday long weekend.

Walmart, the largest U.S. retailer, said on Tuesday that it would be closed on Thanksgiving Day this year to thank employees for their hard work during the current pandemic, which has given Walmart a big sales boost. The last time Walmart closed on Thanksgiving was in the late 1980’s, according to a spokeswoman. The company says it will release more details of its Black Friday plans at a future date.

As the biggest grocer in the country, Walmart has long been open on Turkey Day largely to sell food for panicked last-minute cooks. In recent years, Walmart and rivals including Target, Kohl’s, and Best Buy have started their Black Friday doorbuster deals—aimed at bringing shoppers to stores—on Thursday late afternoon or early evening, rather than on, well, Friday.

Walmart disclosed the news as part of an announcement of another round of bonuses for store workers: the retailer will be doling out $300 for full-time hourly workers and $150 for part-time hourly and temporary workers. Other employees will also get bonuses for a total of $428 million, Walmart said.

The company, deemed essential at the height of the lockdowns this spring because it sells food and cleaning products, saw business soar in the first quarter as consumers stocked up. Walmart and peers like Target have given employees bonuses to keep them motivated at a time of higher infection risk and increasingly, the risk of being verbally abused or worse by some customers.

Walmart last week said shoppers would be required to wear masks in its stores, a move that most retailers have adopted four months after the pandemic first struck and at a time a spike in new infections in big swathes of the U.S. could send retail spending back down.

In recent years, in-store shopping over the four day Thanksgiving-Black Friday has waned, as more spending has gone online. Last year, visitor traffic stores was down 4%, continuing a years-long trend. While still a major shopping weekend, the scenes of hordes stampeding inside as stores open their doors at the crack of dawn are a thing of the past.

With COVID-19 already prompting made many retailers limit the number of people can be in a store at once, in-store Black Friday doorbusters are unlikely to be the norm this year. Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette, for one, recently said that the department store’s Black Friday business will be more geared toward online in 2020, and other retailers are likely to follow suit.

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