Outdoor retail cooperative REI just stunned the world by announcing it will close all of its 143 stores for Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the biggest shopping day of the year in the U.S. On that day, the coop will pay employees to go outside. Part of the company’s #OptOutside campaign, the closure aims to inspire others to move away from the absurd levels of consumerism that have come to define the day.
As president and CEO Jerry Stritzke writes, “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 is in a unique position to make such a bold move. As Shareable cofounder Neal Gorenflo explains, they can forgo profits from Black Friday and pursue their social mission because they're a coop and not bound legally to act in the best financial interest of shareholders like for-profit corporations are.
"It's possible that Target and Walmart legally can't do what REI has done," he says, "so the campaign is a great move even beyond the tremendous PR it's generating. It leverages REI's status as a coop and its competitors can't copy them. Being a cooperative offers significant competitive advantages and REI's move shows that these advantages haven't been fully explored."
The news, which has gone viral on social media, is a huge win for coops, Buy Nothing Day, the commons movement, and a saner way of life.
As employees are encouraged to get outside, chances are good that they’ll be exploring, adventuring and playing in our magnificent commons, including parks, mountains, lakes and rivers, oceans, forests, prairies—all those things that give us so much and require our diligent stewardship.
I can’t help but feel a sense of hope that things in the mainstream are shifting away from over-consumption and isolation toward meaningful, sustainable living together. Yes, it’s only one chain, and yes, Black Friday madness will still ensue. But kudos to REI for refocusing the conversation around the holidays onto celebrating the commons.