Thanksgiving's status as the quintessential American holiday is getting gobbled up in the supermarket business by competitive pressure and changing lifestyles.
The latest victim is Giant Food Inc.'s policy of closing its 160 supermarkets in the Baltimore-Washington area on Thanksgiving.
For years, Giant has touted the policy in newspaper advertisements, stressing the need for its 25,000 workers "to be home with their families for Thanksgiving."
But that spirit is now out the automatic door, and Giant, the largest supermarket chain in the area, will open all of its stores from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 25.
The action has drawn protests from Giant workers and their union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27, and left them worried that staying open Christmas may not be far behind.
"They've destroyed Labor Day, the Fourth of July, and now they are going after the sacred holidays," Local 27 President Thomas Russow said.
Individuals also have been protesting the company's action. "It kind of left a bad taste in everybody's mouth," said Elvis Butler, a Giant clerk in Westminster.
Along with 30 other workers at that store, Mr. Butler signed a letter protesting the Thanksgiving opening. "Christmas and Thanksgiving are the two major times people get together," he said.
Giant employees got the word in an Oct. 28 letter from Israel Cohen, chairman and chief executive officer.
"It was a very difficult decision to make, but today's competitive climate left us no other choice," Mr. Cohen wrote. "There was a time when literally everything was closed on Thanksgiving. But as lifestyles have changed, more and more customers have found a need for a supermarket to be open on this day."
Mr. Cohen said the company will try to staff the stores with workers who volunteer for the premium-pay shift. About 5,000 employees will be working, Giant spokesman Barry F. Scher said.
Jeff Metzger, publisher of Food World, a trade magazine based in Columbia, said Giant's move was "mainly defensive. The game is not letting your competition get any edge."
The move toward opening on Thanksgiving started in 1988, when Safeway Inc. opened its 120 stores in the Baltimore-Washington area on the holiday. "We felt the customer demand for the service," said Larry Johnson, public affairs director for Safeway's Eastern Division, based in Lanham.
A&P;'s Super Fresh, with 55 stores in the area, followed suit a few years later.
Giant's decision to join the trend has pushed Mars Supermarkets Inc. into opening on Thanksgiving, said Angelo N. D'Anna, president of the local 12-store chain. "It's a shame, but with competition being so great, you have to do it," he said.
Valu Food, a Baltimore-based, 16-store chain, is resisting the change. "We like to give that day off to our associates," said Linda M. King, director of art and advertising.
The Randallstown-based Basics and Metro Food Markets chain has not decided whether it will open its 24 stores on Thanksgiving, a spokeswoman said.
Most supermarkets are still closed on Easter and Christmas, although Safeway decided last year to open on Easter Sunday in this area.
Mr. Russow, the union official, sees little hope for saving either holiday. "Will greed overcome good common sense and family values? Sure it will," he said.