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Thanksgiving is just another day on the job for many

Debbie Artus who worked early shift Clark gas statiLindenhurst Thanksgiving  Day jokes with customer Bill Schuler Lindehurst. | Judy

Debbie Artus, who worked the early shift at the Clark gas station in Lindenhurst on Thanksgiving Day, jokes with customer Bill Schuler of Lindehurst. | Judy Masterson/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 28, 2014 3:16AM

For millions of Americans, Thanksgiving, a revered national holiday, is a day to punch the clock and earn a paycheck. Family, the bird and pumpkin pie come second.

In parts of Lake County, every gas station, restaurant, and grocery store is open for business on “Turkey Day.” Cars inch through drive-through lanes at fast-food places. Pharmacy parking lots are full. Dollar stores, fitness clubs, laundromats all open for business, while big-box stores prepare to open on Thursday night for Black Friday shopping.

But while a growing number of retail workers, who have felt the most encroachment on their Thanksgivings in recent years, are protesting and petitioning to take back their holiday, many service workers are resigned to the inevitability of working.

Debbie Artus, manager of the Clark gas station on Grand Avenue in Lindenhurst, mom of six, four of them grown, greeted customer Bill Schuler with her usual cheerfulness late Thanksgiving morning.

“Morning! How are ya?” grins Schuler, who made her Thanksgiving dishes in advance, she said, with cooking instructions written on Post-it notes for her son. By 2 p.m., after a day on her feet selling pop, cigarettes and $2 Turkey Tripler lottery tickets, she would be headed toward dinner.

“She ought to be home with her family,” said Schuler of Lindenhurst, who recalled when all businesses closed on holidays − tough luck if you needed a fill-up.

At the 24-hour Avalon Family Restaurant on Grand Avenue in Gurnee, waitress Jill Stadelmyer warmed the cups of customers Jim and Linda Perz, who were eating eggs and hash browns at the counter. Stadelmyer has waited tables nearly every Thanksgiving in her 23 years at the Avalon. This year, her 12-year-old triplets are with friends. Her husband is up north with her brother.

“Somebody has to take care of the customers,” said Stadelmyer, who added that the restaurant had sold a record number of bloody Mary’s that morning.

Jim Perz, employed by Jewel food stores, usually works Thanksgiving.

“I think retailers have lost their sense of Thanksgiving,” Linda Perz said. “They’re pushing for that almighty buck. I think they’re taking advantage of working-class people.”

“It’s been like this for a long time,” said Avalon owner Peter Souferis, who asked that a photo be taken of his kitchen staff − Fernando, Horacio and Pedro.

What do they think about working on Thanksgiving?

“They like it!” Souferis said. “Have a pancake!”

“This is home,” said Horacio, as he peered through the serving window.

In Waukegan, Eddie Lugo, who works behind the counter at People’s Choice Family Fun Center and Video Express, where a customer by noon was seated in front of a video poker machine, said he doesn’t mind working a day that others get off.

“I’m thankful to have a job,” Lugo said. “I’m grateful to be here and have a dollar in my pocket.”

Retail services aside, some jobs have always needed tending every hour of every day.

Waukegan Police Officer Dave Mahoney and his partner, Grizzly, a 2-year-old German Shepherd − “He’s part of the family,” Mahoney said − worked from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, a day when domestic disturbances are a common complaint.

“You get too many people in a house, people get on each other’s nerves, that sparks something and now we’re showing up,” said Mahoney, who planned to join his wife and two young daughters and an officer friend for a late dinner.

When it comes to working holidays, “It’s the family you miss,” Mahoney said.

“We know this is part of the job,” said Sgt. Ed Sricharmorn, who also worked Thanksgiving for the Waukegan Police Department. “But people working in minimum wage jobs don’t have much of a choice.”

Jamie Niec, of Gurnee, who worked from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. as a patient care tech at Vista Medical Center East in Waukegan, was looking forward to leftovers.

“Hospitals don’t close,” Niec said, as a co-worker passed and wished her “Happy Thanksgiving!”

“Everyone here needs care.”

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