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Pandemic thins Black Friday crowds on Long Island

Black Friday shoppers lined up outside the Michael

Black Friday shoppers lined up outside the Michael Kors store at the Tanger outlet in Riverhead. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Black Friday had a new look on Long Island as the pandemic thinned crowds of face mask-wearing bargain hunters at the region's shopping meccas.

Foot traffic at malls and shopping centers during the holiday shopping season has been falling for years as e-commerce has grown, but COVID-19 is accelerating the trend.

Retail employees managed lines of mask-wearing shoppers to maintain the New York State-mandated rules of 50% capacity during the pandemic.

By 6:40 a.m., on the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally the heaviest shopping day of the year, Kings Park residents Samantha Rizzuto, 31, and her mother, Helene Rizzuto, 60, already were waiting on a short line at Bath & Body Works at Tanger Outlets Riverhead.

"Every year, my mom and I come here. It’s just kind of a tradition," Samantha Rizzuto said.

The early-morning doorbusters are worth the predawn shopping trip, even during the pandemic, she said.

"This doesn’t really scare me. You have to be cautious," said Samantha Rizzuto, an emergency medical technician.

Seaford resident Emma Barbara, 18, carried a Victoria’s Secret bag with sweaters and underwear when she left the store with her friend, Illana Ger, 18, of Levittown.

The mask-wearing friends said they made the trek because of the opportunity to snag deals and the large variety of stores in the Riverhead shopping center, despite the health risks.

"We’re trying to be normal during quarantine," said Barbara, who said they were socially distancing and using hand sanitizer.

Normally, Tanger Outlets Riverhead stores would open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving and remain open continuously until 10 p.m. on Black Friday.

The pandemic changed that.

The shopping center and most stores nationwide were closed on Thanksgiving this year. Tanger Outlets Riverhead, which has 160 stores, opened at 6 a.m. Friday and will close at 10 p.m.

"Right now, I think we’re on track to be comparable to our daytime [foot] traffic numbers," Lesley Anthony, the shopping center’s general manager, said about 7:45 a.m. Friday.

But the shopping center’s peak time on Black Friday is usually noon to 4 p.m., so later numbers would give a better picture of the center’s retail performance, she said.

Small lines were forming around 10 a.m. at Broadway Commons in Hicksville, including more than 25 people queued up outside Game Stop.

Crystal Jamison, 34, said it was a relief to mingle with other shoppers.

"We were going stir-crazy in the house," said Jamison, who lives in North Carolina, but grew up in Rockville Centre and is visiting family. "It was just good to be outside, with people."

Dawn D’Andraia, 49, and her 12-year old son, Vincenzo D'Andraia, left their Malverne home around 5 a.m. and hit Walmart, Big Lots and Home Depot. By noon they were done.

"I always come out early," said D'Andraia, director of materials management at Cohen Children's Medical Center. "Later in the day, you’re dead in the water; you’ll be standing on line for hours."

D'Andraia set out to find items on her kids' wish lists, taking home roller blades, helmets, nerf guns and Oculus VR gear.

Jennifer Scheffel's two daughters danced out of Broadway Commons to the holiday soundtrack after getting gifts for birthday parties. After seeing thin crowds, Scheffel decided to get hand soap at Bath & Body Works.

"It was almost a little sad because it's so quiet," said Scheffel, 48, of Sea Cliff. "But it's better that way."

Smaller crowds made a better shopping experience, according to Eleyce Sykes, 38, who spent about three hours at Broadway Commons with her daughter, Taylor Waller, 16.

"You don't have to fight and tumble over people to get things that you need," said Sykes, of Westbury. "[There] were great deals because every store we went to we came out with bags."

Scott Silverman, 34, said he brought his daughter to Broadway Commons for a little "daddy daughter time." The pair visited Claire's and a holistic-themed shop.

"At some of these mom-and-pop shops, you're helping them out because a lot of these places are not going to survive or last in this type of economy," said Silverman, a Cold Spring Harbor resident who was laid off from his job at a hospital in October. "A lot of people are out of work. I'm out of work. It's tough."

At Meadowbrook Commons in Freeport, John Lavelle, 35, was surprised at how empty Target and other stores were.

Around noon, Lavelle, of Freeport, said the store was even less lively than on a normal shopping day. His haul included a $120 electric scooter for his niece and nephew.

"There’s no line at the checkout," he said. "There aren’t people bumping into your cart. It was a nice experience, actually."

Michael Sauer, 53, of Woodmere, picked up a flat screen TV and pool, also at Target.

Sauer said he doesn’t consider himself a Black Friday shopper, but the store's TV deals were attractive and the crowds at Meadowbrook Commons were sparse.

"No lines," he said. "I literally walked in, grabbed what I had to, spent the money and walked out. Nobody bothering you. It really is quiet in there."

Chris Kapas, 44, of Whitestone, left the Best Buy in East Northport lugging an Emeril Lagasse PowerAirFryer 360.

"It’s an early Christmas gift for my wife and was almost $80 off," he said.

Kapas, who said he’s "more of an online shopper," wasn’t planning on shopping in-store but changed his mind when he drove by and noticed there was no line.

Around 7:30 a.m., Hauppauge resident Richard Rappaport, 38, used the store’s curbside pickup service to get a 50-inch, 4K, Insignia smart TV.

"I woke up at 5 a.m. and bought it on the app," he said. "It’s a pretty sweet deal because it was $150, down from $350."

A week earlier, Rappaport tried buying the same TV on Walmart’s app but said it "sold out within seconds."

"Now, I got it," he said. "The Christmas tree is next."

At Bay Shore’s Westfield South Shore mall, families waited in line to have their "socially distant style" holiday photos taken with a bearded but masked Santa.

Santa was the prime attraction for West Islip residents Deana Ward and Lynn Shortway and their 3-year-old daughter Dylan.

"It’s the only reason we’re here on Black Friday," Deana Ward said. "We do most of our shopping online but decided to come just for the cute photos."

Thomas and Christine Smith, of East Islip, had the same idea for their 4-year-old, Thomas Jr.

"But now that we’re here, I think I’ll stop in one or two stores," Christine Smith said. "It’s not as crazy as your typical Black Friday, which makes me want to take a look."

For Lindenhurst residents and longtime friends Kathy D’Arrigo, Doreen Snyder, Veronica D’Angelo and Corinne Vonholt, hitting the mall together on Black Friday is a 32-year tradition.

"We didn’t want to let COVID ruin that," D’Arrigo said.

The day is "part bonding shopping trip, and part economy booster," D'Angelo said. "Basically we’re just doing our part to keep these stores we love open."

Vonholt said the women would conclude their shopping adventure with "lunch and martinis."

Consumers witnessed a new paradigm for this Black Friday, said Marshal Cohen, a retail industry expert at the NPD Group, a market research firm based in Port Washington.

Not only were consumers spending less time in malls and shopping centers, but many compared product prices on their cell phones and then left stores without making purchases, he said.

Roosevelt Field, the high-end shopping mall in Garden City, is typically "abnormally busy throughout a Black Friday. Today it was moderately busy. There was a lot of social gathering," but not a lot of buying going on, Cohen said.

COVID-19 is fueling the move by consumers to shop online to avoid crowds.

"We expect record-setting [online] shopping days this week with Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2020 becoming the largest two online sales days in history," according to Adobe Analytics, a division of San Jose, California-based software company Adobe Inc.

Online shopping on Black Friday will hit a record $10.3 billion, Adobe projects, with the biggest discounts being on appliances and televisions, 17.6% and 16.7% on average, respectively.

On Thanksgiving, the top five selling products online were Lego sets, Barbie toys, Samsung and TCL 4K TVs, Apple Watches and HP Laptops, according to Adobe.

Black Friday still is projected to rank as the No. 1 in-store holiday shopping day, according to Sensormatic, a Boca Raton, Florida-based provider of technology to the retail industry.

The 10 busiest days for in-store shopping are projected to account for 34.2% of all holiday foot traffic this year, compared with 46.5% for the same period in 2019.

But those 10 days are losing significance as consumers spread their holiday shopping over more days — and retailers offer promotions in October or earlier.

Overall, holiday spending in November and December will be strong, forecasters said. London-based market researcher IHS Markit projected sales will increase 7.6% to $784 billion.

The National Retail Federation, based in Washington, D.C., projected sales will rise 3.6% to 5.2% year-over-year, reaching $755.3 billion to $766.7 billion.

With Sarina Trangle and Victor Ocasio

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