SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Target is joining Walmart in closing its stores on Thanksgiving Day, ending a decadelong tradition of jump-starting Black Friday door buster sales.

The move, announced Monday, comes as stores are rethinking this year’s Black Friday shopping bonanza weekend — along with other key retail days during the holiday season — as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic.

Target operates nearly 300 stores in California.

Stores always depended on big holiday crowds and work as much as a year in advance with manufacturers on securing exclusive items. Now, the virus has turned the holiday shopping model upside down. Stores have slashed orders and crowds are an anathema. With fears of a wave of virus cases in the fall, the biggest nightmare would be if retailers had to reclose during the most critical time of the year, analysts said.

“Historically, deal hunting and holiday shopping can mean crowded events, and this isn’t a year for crowds,” Minneapolis-based Target said in a corporate blog posted. It said its holiday deals would come earlier than ever — starting in October.

Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, announced its move last week.

Target opened for the first time on Thanksgiving in 2011, joining other stores in starting Black Friday sales a day early and creating a new tradition of shoppers heading out to the stores after their turkey feast. Many retailers did so because they were trying to better compete with Amazon and other online players.

But sales ended up eating into Black Friday and many critics lambasted stores for not honoring the holiday and allowing their workers to spend it with family. In response to the backlash and also poor sales, some stores and malls like Bloomington, Minnesota-based Mall of America, reversed course and have not to opened on Thanksgiving in recent years. Costco and Nordstrom among others have always remained closed on Thanksgiving, noting they want to respect the holiday.

The bigger question still looms on how to handle Black Friday itself, which also draws huge crowds — and sales. Despite competition from Thanksgiving shopping, Black Friday ranks as either the top or No. 2 sales day of the year.

Thanksgiving is not even in the top 10 because sales start around 5 p.m. But the day ranked third in online shopping behind Cyber Monday and Black Friday respectively last year, according to Adobe Analytics, which tracks online sales for 80 of the top 100 retailers.

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