KINGSPORT — Oh what a difference a year and a pandemic can make.
Black Friday 2020 will go down in the history of retail as the shopping season that upended traditions but may have started some new ones.
For one thing, the trend of stores opening on the morning or afternoon of Thanksgiving all but vanished. Big Lots in Kingsport and Rural King in Bristol, Virginia, were among a handful of Tri-Cities retailers open on Turkey Day, joining Walgreens, CVS and a select few other businesses, including grocery stores that traditionally open Thanksgiving Day for last-minute food needs but close mid-afternoon.
A few restaurants also were open.
WHAT DID THANKSGIVING DAY LOOK LIKE?
At about 10:15 a.m. Thursday, the Big Lots parking lot in Kingsport had a smattering of cars, while the Fort Henry Mall had a few, probably workers doing cleaning or other work in preparation for Black Friday morning. The nearby Walmart on Fort Henry Drive had almost no cars.
As The New York Times reported, the typical start of the holiday shopping season, like everything else in the COVID-19 year of 2020, was anything but normal.
“Touching stuff, browsing for the family, the whole experience: Those are literally all of the things we’re telling people to avoid,” said Sapna Maheshwari, who covers retail for The Times.
However, people in the Tri-Cities and the rest of the nation still went out Friday. And many Americans went to malls last weekend to get ahead of potential holiday crowds, according to The Wall Street Journal. But others are following the advice of public health experts and moving even more of their shopping online.
“OUR HEART’S NOT IN IT THIS YEAR”
Locally, one family scaled back its in-person Black Friday shopping. Tammy Turner of Surgoinsville stayed home on Thursday, and on Friday she was cooking a delayed Thanksgiving dinner, but her husband and daughter, Kenny and Katie, did venture out Friday morning.
“Kenny and Katie got up this morning and went to Walmart (on West Stone Drive),” said Turner, who normally shops Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday in person. “They couldn’t stand it.”
She said they got some of the specials on washcloths and towels and skillets. She said much of her shopping this year has been or will be online, although she said she also is doing some in-person shopping. She did both at Kohl’s. One thing she said her daughter and husband didn’t do this Black Friday was buy DVDs, normally a staple of their Thanksgiving Day/Black Friday shopping.
In addition, she said Walmart was their first and last stop Friday.
The couple’s son, Patrick, was in the middle of the towel and washcloth frenzy last Thanksgiving Day as a Walmart employee. This year, the store was closed Thursday and he was working curbside pickup.
Turner said her daughter went to Jo Ann’s in Kingsport Wednesday at 6 a.m. for early half-price deals and found herself one of only two shoppers in the store.
“Our heart’s not in it this year,” Turner said, explaining that her husband’s father and her grandmother both died recently. She said her grandmother didn’t have COVID-19 and that her father-in-law did but that it wasn’t his primary cause of death.
Turner and her daughter are teachers at Volunteer High School, part of the Hawkins County Schools that have been all virtual learning lately because of a spike in novel coronavirus cases that has hit faculty, staff and students. Their church, Amis Chapel United Methodist, also will return to in-person worship no earlier than Dec. 6.
“THIS WAS JUST NOT NORMAL TODAY”
Another shopper, Michael Salyer of Mount Carmel, went to Walmart, Ollie’s and Lowe’s Friday. He said employees at Ollie’s told him they had only 25 people in line when the store opened that morning.
“I would probably say 60/40, maybe 70/30” was the ratio of those wearing masks versus those who didn’t, Salyer said. However, on the plus side, he said advertised items were in stock and easy to find and the store wasn’t crowded.
“They weren’t out of anything,” Salyer said. “Usually everything is out and gone.” He said one exception was the DVD deals, which it turned out at Walmart were online-only items.
“This was just not normal today,” Salyer said. “This isn’t Black Friday.”
WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF BLACK FRIDAY?
An overarching question is how many of the pandemic shopping habits will endure.
“A lot of people have learned how to online shop this year, just like they learned how to Zoom and FaceTime with their families,” Sapna says.
However, she said in-person shopping is still an enjoyable experience. Many people will miss it this weekend and “happily” return to it once a coronavirus vaccine is widely available, the Times reported.
“I don’t think anything will ever be the same. That’s sad to say,” Turner said.
WHAT ABOUT BLACK FRIDAYS II and III?
Starting in the 1980s, Black Friday expanded beyond Philadelphia, with major retailers across the United States using the holiday to unveil their hottest new products and to offer steep discounts for customers willing to line up at the crack of dawn.
In the early 2000s, retailers started expanding the shopping holiday into a multiday event, adding Cyber Monday for online shopping, and eventually Small Business Saturday to encourage people to patronize local businesses.
“We’ll do the online on Cyber Monday,” Salyer said.
Merchants in Kingsport, Gate City and across the region will mark Small Business Saturday with open houses and sales.
However, Joyce Grills and Kim Burke at the Haggle Shop downtown said the antique mall won’t do its regular spread of food and refreshments Saturday morning for its annual open house the day after Black Friday. Still, Burke said, the store is offering hot cider and individually wrapped cookies for antique store browsers and buyers.
The store is also giving away door prizes, including a $100 gift certificate, will have sales throughout the building, and will have some items to give away. Smaller events will continue every Saturday in December, Burke said.
ONLINE-ONLY BONUS: WHERE DID THE NAME BLACK FRIDAY ORIGINATE?
Black Friday means the day retailers historically go from a loss or being in the red to a profit or being in the black, right?
Not so fast. Multiple sources say historians indicate it originated in Philadelphia in the 1960s, around 1966, when throngs of shoppers and tourists would descend on the city on the day between Thanksgiving and the Army-Navy football game.
The Philadelphia police took to calling the day Black Friday because officers had to work long hours and deal with bad traffic, bad weather and other crowd-related miseries.
According to the Times, retailers tried to rebrand the holiday “Big Friday.” However, when that didn’t catch on, they reclaimed the name Black Friday, saying that the holiday was when stores went from red to the black.