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No deals: This mall operator is shutting its doors for Thanksgiving

For many families, shopping after the Thanksgiving feast has become a new tradition. That tradition, however, may be reverting to something more old-fashioned: Staying at home.

Recently, national mall operator CBL & Associates announced it will close all 72 of its malls across 30 states for the Thanksgiving holiday.

"We looked at it last year and we decided this year it was the right thing to do," CBL & Associates Properties President and CEO Stephen Lebovitz told CNBC's "On the Money" in an interview.

CBL had been opening at various hours during Thanksgiving evening since 2013, a practice replicated by a number of big retailers hoping to juice holiday sales figures. In recent years, hordes of Thanksgiving shoppers leaving their homes to take advantage of sales—often trampling and fighting with others along the way—has been a source of growing controversy.

"We have 1500 CBL employees, and almost 100,000 employees for our stores across our portfolio, and we think that they deserve Thanksgiving off." Lebovitz told CNBC. Workers have told him "how they appreciate getting the day off, how there are so few family days that are out there anymore and Thanksgiving really is special," he added.

People carrying shopping bags walk along Fifth Avenue in New York.
Getty Images
People carrying shopping bags walk along Fifth Avenue in New York.

CBL's announcement came just days after the country's largest shopping center, Minnesota's Mall of America said it would be reversing course by closing for Thanksgiving for the first time in its 24 year history.

Black Friday door busters used to kick off to the holiday shopping season. Over the last several years, retailers have jumped the gun by opening their doors first at midnight and then encroaching earlier into Thanksgiving day to get a head start on those holiday shoppers.

Lebovitz told CNBC since the Chattanooga, TN-based company made their announcement, "the reaction's been incredibly positive" from customers. "They're appreciative. They say we'll come to your mall on Black Friday. We don't want to shop on Thanksgiving."

That may come as cold comfort to the estimated 35 million shoppers that hit stores on Thanksgiving day last year—a big incentive for retailers to open their doors to those dollars.

Macy's, Kohl's, Target and Walmart are among retailers to open on the holiday. Yet Nordstrom, TJ Maxx, Apple, Barnes & Noble have opted to keep their doors closed this Thanksgiving.

Meanwhile, CBL's top two competitors, mall operators Simon Property Group and General Growth both announced they will open their malls on the holiday. According to IBISWorld, Simon has a 41 percent market share and General Growth Properties has 19.1 percent of the market. CBL is a distant third with 9.1 percent.

However, Lebovitz said "we don't feel we're putting our retailers at a disadvantage" by not being open. "A lot of our malls are the only mall in their market or in their community. So we're not competing with other malls, per se."

There is a loophole: CBL malls, which are concentrated in the South and Midwest, has anchor stores that may opt to open on Thanksgiving.

"They can and they will [be open], and that's their decision," Lebovitz said. But the interior mall portion, the specialty stores , those will be closed and that's where most of our business is done."

Citing support of the mall's retailers, Lebovitz said they agreed "employees deserve the day off and they wanted to see this happen." Lebovitz called the increase in stores opening on Thanksgiving as a "knee-jerk reaction to online shopping" that has stolen the thunder of brick-and-mortar retail shopping.

He said that if more stores closed on Thanksgiving, it could "restore the luster back to Black Friday."

The CEO told CNBC it's too early to know if they'll do the same thing in 2017, "but for this year it's definitely the right thing."


On the Money airs on CNBC Saturday at 5:30 am ET, or check listings for air times in local markets.