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Why It Matters That REI Will #OptOutside on Black Friday

By Michael Lanza

Lanza in the Grand Canyon
Lanza hiking in the Grand Canyon, May 2015. Photo credits: Michael Lanza

When the country’s largest consumer co-op retailer announces it will close its doors and website on one of the biggest shopping days of the year, it attracts attention. REI did just that when it announced last week that it’s closing all 143 stores on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and won’t process any online purchases until the following day. Employees will get a paid day off and be encouraged to get outside—and no doubt many of them will.

Beyond the benefit to REI’s workers and potential impact on company sales, does this matter to anyone else? I say, yes, it does, for reasons that reach far beyond REI’s walls. Maybe least obviously, but most importantly, this is good for our kids. opens to a banner counting down the days, hours, and minutes until REI employees #OptOutside on Black Friday. In a statement at the website, Chief Executive Jerry Stritzke says: “For 76 years, our co-op has been dedicated to one thing and one thing only: a life outdoors. We believe that being outside makes our lives better. And Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of this essential truth.”

REI, the nation’s largest consumer co-op with 5.5 million members (full disclosure: including me), wields an outsized influence on the outdoor industry; some brands realize half of total sales through REI. Anything REI does sends out wide ripples, to other companies and retailers and even beyond its 5.5 million members. Within days, outdoor-industry companies Outdoor Research, Clif Bar, and Gregory Packs announced their employees would #OptOutside on Black Friday, too.

REI’s #OptOutside campaign has echoed across America—apparently touching a widely shared sentiment. It has been all over social media and traditional media ranging from CBS News to called REI’s move a “death knell for Black Friday.”

Declaring Black Friday on life support may be premature. Most big retailers aren’t likely to close on Black Friday, of course; their sales depend heavily on big-discount days like that.

But REI’s sheer size meant #OptOutside will echo for some time to come. What if this initiates a slow shift in how Americans think about the balance between work and family time, and the relative importance of buying more stuff versus spending your time doing something you enjoy? We know from research that spending money on material goods doesn't bring lasting satisfaction, but spending money on experiences does. What if Americans transformed Black Friday into Green Friday and spent the day outdoors instead?

Lanza and family in Kootenay National Park
Lanza with wife Penny Beach, daughter Alex, and son Nate in Kootenay National Park, Canadian Rockies

Children emulate their parents—both generations spend a lot of time in front of electronic screens. Among the myriad, disastrous results of that trend are these troubling statistics:

#OptOutside rings in our senses like the words of the child who declared that the fictional emperor wore no clothes: It reminds us that no shopping day is anywhere near as critical as personal human relationships, or the relationship of people to the natural world. It exposes Black Friday as a gross celebration of consumerism. Black Friday suddenly looks like the thing you believed you could not do without—until you do something better, like spending the day outside (which, after all, is the reason we buy that stuff). 

As for my family, we will #OptOutside on Black Friday, but not because of REI’s campaign. Our kids have Thanksgiving week off from school. We’ve been planning to ski that week, or if there’s no snow yet, we’ll do something else outdoors, for the same reason we do it on any other day of the year that we can: just because (like many REI customers) my family prefers to spend our leisure time outside.

Sadly, a fairly small minority of Americans values time outdoors more than Black Friday sales. When that changes, maybe all of our lives will be better.


About the Author 

image from www.beacon.orgMichael Lanza is the author of the National Outdoor Book Award-winning Before They’re Gone—A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks and creator of the blog The Big Outside. Read about his plan to climb the highest peak in the Lower 48, Mount Whitney, with his 15-year-old son, to raise money for Big City Mountaineers, and how you can join his guided climbing team.