One major mall operator is giving back Thanksgiving to thousands of employees at 73 of its properties.
Chattanooga, Tennessee–based CBL & Associates, which owns or has a hand in 89 regional malls and open-air shopping centers, will close the doors at nearly all of its properties until 6 a.m. Black Friday.
At its enclosed malls, the only tenants allowed to open are department stores, movie theaters, restaurants or others that have an exterior entrance. All access to the centers' common areas will be restricted. CBL's open-air centers will also be closed; however since all of those tenants have exterior entrances, they will have the option to stay open.
The company notified all the individual centers Wednesday afternoon. (For a full list of CBL centers that will be closed, see below.)
The closings will allow about 1,500 mall employees and between 750 and 2,000 retail workers per property to celebrate the holiday.
CBL's announcement comes one week after the Mall of America said it would close on Thanksgiving.
"We think that for our employees and for the store employees, they deserve the day off and to be able to spend the day with their families," CBL CEO Stephen Lebovitz told CNBC in an exclusive interview. "Thanksgiving is a special holiday, and it's unfair for them not to be able to enjoy it like everyone else can."
Openings at CBL's properties had been creeping earlier every year, as retailers tried to get a jump on their online competitors and other brick-and-mortar players. In 2012, select CBL centers opened for the first time at midnight on Black Friday. The next year, all of its centers opened at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. And in 2015, its properties started welcoming shoppers at 6 p.m. on Turkey Day. Though a handful of stores opted to stay closed on Thanksgiving, the majority of the malls' tenants were open for business, Lebovitz said.
However, as consumer outrage began to grow, CBL started contemplating a different approach. The company first suggested closing its properties for the holiday last year, but several retailers pushed back, Lebovitz said. Now, as tenants have started to realize that Thanksgiving Day openings simply spread out their sales — and were not accretive to their top lines — they've become more receptive to the initiative.
They've meanwhile gotten more adept online, allowing them to better compete with online-only players, Lebovitz said.
"It's not putting them at a disadvantage," he said.