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116 million people plan to shop this Black Friday, but REI will be closed—here's why

A customer leaves the Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) outdoor gear and clothing store in Santa Fe, New Mexico. 
Robert Alexander/Getty Images
A customer leaves the Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) outdoor gear and clothing store in Santa Fe, New Mexico. 

It's Black Friday, a day where 116 million Americans will flock to stores to kick off the holiday shopping season, one where consumers say they'll spend more than $1,000 apiece.

It's one of the biggest shopping days of the year, but one store is opting out. For the fourth year in a row, outdoor clothing and equipment store REI is paying its 12,000 employees to take the day off and spend Black Friday outside as part of its #OptOutside campaign.

"We're asking [employees] to take someone they love who might not get outside as much with them," writes REI CEO Jerry Stritzke in a blog post. "If we're honest, these are stressful times, and we hope it will help bring people closer together." Stritzke says he will spend the day with his daughter and son-in-law in Michigan.

In addition to giving their employees the day off to enjoy nature, REI also has pledged to give $1 million towards to the Nature for Health initiative at University of Washington, one intended to study how being outside impacts physical and mental health.

"We all have the anecdotes of how we feel better after spending time outside, but we wanted to move toward some empirical evidence around the physical, emotional and societal benefits of being outside," REI chief customer officer Ben Steele tells Fast Company.

"The university is going to develop that work, publish it through our online storytelling portal The Co-Op Journal, and in doing so, we want to look at what a potential prescription for time outdoors looks like, as part of the solution for anxiety, depression or PTSD."

REI SoHo Grand Opening
Courtesy of Recreational Equipment Inc (REI)
REI SoHo Grand Opening

While it may seem counter-intuitive for REI to turn away the swarms of Black Friday customers, Stritzke says that the move has actually allowed the company to build its brand and avoid the consequences of the retail apocalypse.

In fact, last year the company took in $2.62 billion in sales, a 2.5 percent increase from the year before.

"Since launching #OptOutside, we've watched more than 200 retailers go out of business," he tells BestBlackFriday.com. "It has been a period of enormous change in retail. We've stayed healthy partly because we've stuck with our core values — like giving our employees time to do what they love with the people they love during the holidays. It's enabled us to connect millions of people with the outdoors."

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