NewsdayTV's Cecilia Dowd is at Roosevelt Field mall to talk to shoppers about the deals they are scoring on Black Friday.  Credit: Newsday/Howard Schnapp

This story was reported by Jonathan LaMantia, Victor Ocasio and Tory N. Parrish. It was written by Ken Schachter.

Inflation-wary shoppers trekked to Long Island's retail meccas on  Black Friday in search of bargains and the hardest-to-find holiday gifts.

In-store foot traffic on Black Friday started out slow in the morning as rain fell on parts of Long Island, but it had picked up to strong numbers by the early afternoon, said Marshal Cohen, chief retail industry adviser for the NPD Group, a Port Washington-based market research firm.

Though retailers’ discounts weren’t as steep or plentiful this year, some types of merchandise, such as toys and apparel, were selling well Friday, he said.

“Overall Black Friday for the stores looks like it’s going to be a decent day. … The [shopping] bag count is pretty good. It’s not like it was pre-pandemic but it’s doing pretty well,” he said.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Bargain hunters flocked to stores at the start of the holiday shopping season;
  • Foot traffic was moderate at shopping centers checked by Newsday;
  • Inflation and recession fears created an uncertain backdrop for consumers.

Online on Black Friday, consumers had spent $7.28 billion as of 6 p.m., according to Adobe Analytics, which was projecting that the total day's sales would set a record of $9 billion to $9.2 billion for a Black Friday. Last year, Black Friday's online sales totaled $8.92 billion.

At Long Island stores, bargain hunters sought to blunt the impact of higher living expenses because of inflation by scooping up sale items. 

“On a real basis, consumers are buying less. They’re feeling squeezed,” said Sarah Wyeth, retail sector lead at S&P Global Ratings, a Manhattan-based financial analysis company.

Bellport residents Richard and Bilge Wolfe arrived at Tanger Outlets Riverhead a little after 6 a.m. They have hit the stores on Black Friday regularly for nine years.

“I want to be done before everyone comes, before traffic,” said Bilge Wolfe, 50.

But this year, with the higher costs on consumer goods, Richard Wolfe said he and his wife are cutting back on the holiday shopping by “at least 30%-40%.”

Shoppers at Tanger Outlet in Riverhead on Friday.

Shoppers at Tanger Outlet in Riverhead on Friday. Credit: Tom Lambui

He blamed inflation for what he said were comparatively small crowds this year versus years past.

“Most people, they’re cutting back tremendously,” said Richard Wolfe, 60.

Festive music piped from ceiling speakers greeted early-morning shoppers  at Roosevelt Field in Garden City.

There were no big crowds but some stores, such as Primark and Aerie, were busy.

By about 8:30 a.m., Rodney Fischetti had gotten a good deal on his 11-year-old son's new Jordan Retro 4 sneakers at Clientele, an athletic shoe and apparel store at the mall, said Fischetti, 52, a Westbury resident.

"Roosevelt Field always has great deals this time of year," he said.

Fischetti said he thinks that people looking for normalcy on the third Black Friday weekend since the COVID-19 pandemic started will be returning to Roosevelt Field in strong numbers.

"I think this weekend will be one of their best weekends in a long time," he said.

Prime parking areas were filled early Friday afternoon at Commack South Shopping Center as shoppers braved a rainy start to the day. One shopper needed assistance when the six flat-screen TVs in his cart nearly toppled onto the sidewalk.

Oscar Cardoza, 29, of Brentwood, walked out of a Walmart in the shopping center with a shopping cart full of Christmas gifts, including a painting set and a toy truck, for his daughter and nephews. “Right now, it’s a little bit cheaper,” he said. “You try to get it now."

Oscar Cardoza of Brentwood loads his car with the Christmas gifts he...

Oscar Cardoza of Brentwood loads his car with the Christmas gifts he bought at the Walmart in Commack on Friday. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Cardoza said he has noticed higher food prices but he doesn’t plan to change his Christmas shopping plans. 

“We have to do it. The kids — they don’t know if we have money or not,” he joked.

Joanna Safer, 49, and her daughter Noa, 12, of Fort Salonga, continued a family tradition on Black Friday that typically includes a morning stop at Starbucks for a holiday drink and a full day of shopping. This year, Noa made the trip on crutches after suffering an injury at cheer practice. The pair left Walmart with some slime kits they had scored for $12 and holiday-themed T-shirts.

“On Black Friday, we come out because the prices are cheaper,” Joanna Safer said. “It’s a fun day out.”

Ivonne Objio, Katherine Bosnack and another friend arrived at the Roosevelt Field mall  shortly after its 6 a.m. opening, hoping to beat the crowds and snag doorbusters and other sales, but found them to be lacking, they said.

Friends Katherine Bosnack, 21, left, of East Williston, and Ivonne...

Friends Katherine Bosnack, 21, left, of East Williston, and Ivonne Objio, 21, of Mineola, take a break from Black Friday shopping at Roosevelt Field. Credit: Newsday/Tory Parrish

The friends had shopping bags from UNTUCKit, Victoria's Secret, American Eagle, Aerie and other stores.

"We really have only been going to places that have a good sale," said Objio, 21, of Mineola.

At this point, being at the mall on Black Friday is more about tradition, the friends said. "And it kicks off the holiday season," said Bosnack, 21, of East Williston.

The five days from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday are regarded as an indicator for how retailers will fare over the whole holiday season, but high inflation and recession fears will affect that bellwether as more consumer spending goes for essentials, retail experts said.

Higher prices were on the mind of Sarah Katzman, 18, of Great Neck, another Tanger shopper making her way through the shopping center on a chilly morning. She was adjusting her buying as a result.

“As I’m a college student, I have to learn to manage my money and balance that,” said Katzman, a fashion major at the University of Delaware visiting family. “With all the prices going up now, it’s definitely something I’m not used to.”

But despite the costs, Katzman said she’s finding deals and enjoying the  rush of shopping in physical stores again nearly three years after  the pandemic started.

“I was more of an online shopper,” she said. “But something about shopping in person again brings so much excitement.”

Best friends, Mastic residents and former co-workers Tiandra Barnes, 20, and Elisa Sanchez, 20, in past years have been on the other side of the cash register, spending the past four years working in retail.

“We’re actually not working this year.” Sanchez said. “We usually do Cyber Monday.”

Shoppers Elisa Sanchez, left, and Tiandra Barnes, both of Mastic,...

Shoppers Elisa Sanchez, left, and Tiandra Barnes, both of Mastic, at Tanger Outlets in Riverhead on Friday. Credit: Tom Lambui

“Before COVID the crowds were much bigger,” Sanchez said.  “Lines would be crazy.”

Still, the pair had no luck getting into the Ugg store with its queue stretching far out the door.

At the Commack South Shopping Center, Michele O’Regan, 51, of Commack, left HomeGoods with a Snoopy soap dispenser after looking for gifts for her family and some decorations for her house. She said she planned to visit several more stores on Black Friday but was being more deliberate about her shopping.

“I’m a little more conscious of what I’m spending this year,” she said.

Some consumers who put off Black Friday shopping sprees in stores and online may wait longer into the holiday season to shop, as inventory-heavy retailers are expected to slash prices to move merchandise, experts said.

“I think the focus from a consumer standpoint will be on value” offered by off-price stores and other discounters, said Zain Akbari, an equity analyst at Morningstar Investment Service in Chicago.

Nationally, retail sales during this holiday season — November and December — are expected to grow 4.5% compared with the same period in 2021, which is in line with the average of the past 20 years, according to S&P. 

But, adjusted for inflation, holiday sales actually will contract as consumers allocate more of their spending for essentials, S&P said.

The National Retail Federation, however, offered holiday sales projections that were more optimistic.

The Washington, D.C.-based trade group is forecasting that holiday retail sales will grow between 6% and 8% to between $942.6 billion and $960.4 billion compared to the same period last year.

Still, Tanger Outlets Riverhead marketing director Lesley Anthony said  higher prices or limited stock were not expected to hurt  sales or foot traffic at the shopping center.

“We’re expecting a very healthy holiday shopping season,” she said. Inflation “does not impact us as severely because we are in the outlet business and our retailers have their pricing strategy ready to go.”

Quoting board chairman Steven Tanger, Anthony said, “In good times, people love a bargain. In tough times, people need a bargain.”

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