LOS ANGELES — For 13 straight years, energetic REI store manager Nikki Mashapure spent her Black Friday in the retail trenches, trying to keep from being overrun by invading shoppers at work.
But the day after Thanksgiving this year, the mother of three young daughters and her husband are going hiking — and she’s getting paid.
Outdoor retailer REI is closing all 143 of its locations nationwide, including Mashapure’s Woodland Hills store, and paying almost 12,000 employees to enjoy the outdoors as part of its #optoutside campaign.
“Get outside and escape the crazy frenziness that is Black Friday in the world of retail,” Mashapure explained.
“So we really want to extend the family feeling and whole concept that is Thanksgiving, and carry that into the next day instead of going out into the retail madness.”
Four other REI Woodland Hills employees shared “opt outside” plans that include running, mountain biking, mountain climbing and rock climbing, the last a fitting admission from Mark Stallings as he perches on a tall ladder accessing stored items.
The “opt outside” enthusiasm seemingly spread along trails to California’s state parks.
The Save the Redwoods League and 49 state parks in Northern California are combining to offer free admission passes on Black Friday.
The state reports at least 30 of those parks are sold out for that day.
‘Get people to see our parks’
“It’s just a great opportunity for us to jump on the social media bandwagon and tell the public (that) state parks are a great place to spend a holiday” said Dana Jones, superintendent of the California State Parks’ Capital District. “Get people to see our parks, show what you have in your neighborhood. ”
Other companies with fitness or health business models are joining “opt outside,” including BRG Sports.
The parent of Bell, Giro and Blackburn is paying 150 U.S. employees to take the day off and recreate.
REI reports 1 million Americans have committed to “opt outside” activities on Black Friday, many of them pledging to attend some of the 300 events listed on the website Meetup.com, including volleyball and surfing activities.
The Maryland-based American Hiking Society is paying all seven of its staff members to go into the wild Friday.
“We embrace any movement that gets people to get to the outdoors and stay out of the malls,” said Peter Olsen, the society’s vice president of government relations. “Sometimes people need that push.”
REI won’t disclose how much money it may stand to lose by shutting down on Black Friday, which is the top sales day of the year for many brick and mortar retailers.
The company is run like a cooperative, technically owned by member customers who pay fees for special deals.
REI took some hits during a recent Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) with CEO Jerry Stritzke.
People who said they were current and former employees blasted REI for being a terrible place to work, and said it offered poor wages. But many other comments suggested the complainers shouldn’t whine about salaries for retail jobs, and the company has been on Forbes’ list of the Best 100 Companies to Work For for 18 years.
Mashapure remains laser-focused on Friday’s trek through Topanga State Park with Isabella, 4; Hope, 2; Anashe,10 months; and her husband, Ruangano, from Zimbabwe.
The family will be equipped with a backpack and a fitness stroller with shock absorbers, both from REI, which will be an empty cavern the day after Thanksgiving.
“We understand that we will probably be losing some sales with the holiday,” Mashapure said. “But for us (REI), it’s worth it to make a statement.”