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Despite the pandemic, Black Friday still lures shoppers, but crowds appeared smaller this year

Despite the pandemic, Black Friday still lures shoppers, but crowds appeared smaller this year

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In a year that’s been far from ordinary in many ways, some have had to do away with traditions.

Or, if you’re Catherine Richardson, Niamya Candelaria and Dorlanda Thornton, you modify them.

The three women, all from Chesterfield County, stood outside the Victoria’s Secret store in Short Pump Town Center Friday morning, waiting in one of the mall’s longest lines because of store capacity requirements.

In years past, Richardson said the trio shopped right after Thanksgiving dinner. Walmart was always the first stop.

“Usually it’s the night of, but everything was closed [this year], so that was different for us,” Richardson said.

Shopping on Black Friday, traditionally the kickoff of the holiday selling season, is only one of many new considerations this year for them: They made sure to wear masks, they brought hand sanitizer and tried to stay away from others. And after a Thanksgiving dinner with their 12-person family, they took COVID-19 tests before hitting the stores Friday morning.

“It’s different,” Thornton said of the new shopping experience. “It’s really different this year because of the pandemic.”

But none of those obstacles was going to stop them from getting into the holiday spirit with gifts for their loved ones.

Shoppers still flocked to malls and stores across the Richmond region on Friday, but the crowds appeared smaller this year. For instance, traffic along West Broad Street in Short Pump around noon on Friday appeared typical for a weekend, but it was far from anything normal for a typical Black Friday of previous years.

While the raging coronavirus pandemic kept crowds smaller at malls and stores across the country, a surge in online shopping offered a beacon of hope for struggling retailers after months of slumping sales and businesses toppling into bankruptcy.

In normal times, Black Friday is among the busiest shopping days of the year, drawing millions of people eager to get started on their holiday spending.

But that changed this year with smaller crowds and increased safety procedures. Retailers were pushing more deals online and offering more curbside pickup.

At the Best Buy on West Broad Street in Short Pump around noon, the line stretched all the way to the entrance of the neighboring World Market store. That store, like many others, restricted the number of shoppers inside for safety protocols.

It was Amanda Dossantos’ first stop and she came with a goal. Come December, she’s heading to Brazil and needed electronics to take with her: some AirPods and a new lens for her camera. She wasn’t nervous shopping, but wore a mask and made sure to use hand sanitizer.

“I mean, I try to make it normal, even though we’re living in a crazy year,” Dossantos said.

Shopping on Black Friday isn’t a tradition for her, and Dossantos usually only comes out when she needs something. She said she tends to shop online.

Historically, shoppers across the nation flock to big box retailers such as Walmart and Target looking for those doorbuster deals. Both chains, as well as most retailers, were closed Thursday — it marked the first time Walmart had closed on that day since the 1980s.

Kaitlyn Schnieder and Josie Southern’s first stop of the day was at the Walmart in Short Pump. As they made their way to their cars, they said they weren’t nervous about shopping, acknowledging they could get the virus anywhere.

Friends Dominique Greene of Chesterfield and Kelle Harrison of Henrico County left the Walmart with a loaded cart. Harrison said she shops every year on Black Friday whether she needs something or not, but tries to get Christmas items at a lower price.

Greene picked up a TV stand and an organizer. The stand was the day’s big bargain, he said, paying $79 instead of $179.

Harrison ventured out hoping there wouldn’t be many people shopping. The stores weren’t as packed as usual, she said, but the bargains weren’t as good as they usually were. Walmart and other chains have been offering more Black Friday bargains throughout November.

Harrison found better deals online for Walmart, but she and Greene wanted to come out to stores to see if they could get a better price in person.

“[I’ve been] shopping online throughout the whole year,” Greene said. “So it’s like, let me take a break, let me get some fresh air.”

Many retailers beefed up their safety protocols to reassure wary customers about coming in on Black Friday. But stores also catered to those shopping digitally by moving their doorbuster deals online and ramping up curbside pickup options as a last grasp at sales before the year ends.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has labeled shopping in crowded stores during the holidays a “higher risk” activity and says people should limit any in-person shopping.

“Black Friday is still critical,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail. “No retailer wants it to be tarnished. It’s still vital to get their consumers spending and get consumers into the holiday mood.”

Online spending Thanksgiving Day reached a record $5.1 billion, up 21.5% compared to a year ago, according to Adobe Analytics, which measures sales at 80 of the top 100 U.S. online retailers. Among the most popular items were Lego sets, Barbie toys, and kid scooters, HP laptops, and Apple Watches, according to Adobe.

Black Friday is projected to generate $10 billion in online sales, a 39% bump from the year ago period, according to Adobe. And Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, will remain the biggest online shopping day of the year with $12.7 billion in sales, a 35% jump.

achurch@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6572

Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.

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