West Town mall joins retailers closing on Thanksgiving; economists expect 2020 holiday sales to drop

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Simon properties announced its shopping centers will not be open on Thanksgiving Day, which includes West Town Mall.

The company joins many other retailers who have announced a closure on Thanksgiving.

The Simon properties CEO said the reason to close on the holiday was so associates could spend time with their families.

However, a local economist believes many of these stores are closing for safety.

“I don’t think they really want to close. I think the reality is that it’s COVID, and they’re very worried about their employees and I think they’re worried about crowds of people,” Matt Murray, director of the Howard Baker Jr. Center at the University of Tennessee, said.

Murray said he had been monitoring all the stores choosing to close for Thanksgiving.

He said the Howard Baker Jr. Center, along with the state’s economy task force and the University’s Social Work Office of Research and Public Service, has been studying attitudes and behavior of Tennesseans toward COVID-19 and the re-opening of the economy through a program called TN Pulse.

Murray said restaurants and retail stores have been hit hard because of the pandemic, even after everything started to reopen.

He said there are two type of people: those wanting and willing to venture out into stores or out in public in general (other than for groceries) and those who would prefer to stay home.

Murray said there’s a significant amount of people in both groups.

While retailers might need that extra revenue, Murray believes with one less day to be open on a usual shopping weekend, there’s less chance to become a super-spreading event.

“A good year on a good Thanksgiving, we talk about mobs of people at the stores right? Now, how are you going to get people to engage in social distancing and wear masks when you have that kind of concentration of people,” Murray said.

Although the retailers will be closed on Thanksgiving, they will reopen for Black Friday, and with online shopping the stores are never actually closed.

Murray said similar to during the pandemic, online shopping will be big this holiday season, but still not bring in as many sales as in years past.

He said, yet again, shoppers fall into two categories: either they’ve struggled financially during the pandemic or they haven’t.

“My paycheck has not changed. My wife continues to work, her paycheck has not changed. We’re probably going to spend about what we would spend at any Christmas. But, there are a lot of people out there having trouble paying the bills right now,” Murray said.

While online shopping will be good for the economy as a whole, including state and local governments, Murray said it’s not necessarily good for the people in the community who are having a hard time financially.

“When we’re buying things online, we’re shifting where the employment is. From a brick and mortar establishment in Knoxville or a surrounding area, to a, for example, a Walmart fulfillment center somewhere in the state of Tennessee,” Murray said.

He said shoppers don’t usually like to hop from one website to another if they can find everything in one spot. That means local stores with their own websites will get some traction, but not as much as big box retailers.

Murray said the only perk of online shopping for the community these days is the sales tax.

“So while the local community loses the sales and may be hurt by reduced employment, the local community is still generating the sales tax revenue to the extent the purchaser is paying sales tax when buying online,” Murray said.

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