Despite a slight chill and an ongoing pandemic, Springfield shoppers came out, masked up and streamed into stores Friday for the annual kickoff of the holiday shopping season.
The differences from previous years were easy to spot. The usual boisterous crowds were discouraged in favor of social distancing and, in some cases, hard limits on the number of people allowed in a store at any given time.
In recognition of the troubling caseload growth gripping Missouri and much of the country right now, big box stores also offered curbside service for those looking to keep as much distance as possible.
Black Friday bargains still draw crowds
Around 11 a.m. Friday, a decent-sized line could be seen crawling past the front doors of Best Buy off Glenstone Avenue as employees wheeled out drivers’ haul.
Aaron Underwood hauled his own bargain, though.
He was carrying a 55-inch flatscreen TV with both hands when a reporter caught up with him, and he said he’d scored it for $350 — at least $50 off prices listed online.
He said it was his first time shopping on Black Friday and he recognized the risks this year, but said he felt comfortable with the safety measures in place.
“You just have to be cautious,” he said through a black mask. “Most places have been fine.”
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He said he started his day at Menard’s picking up a mount for the aforementioned flatscreen and the standard precautions were in place there, too.
Over on Commercial Street, Heidi Herrman and her parents were looking for something a little different among the artisan wares at Footbridge Trading Company.
“We’re looking for unique gifts — and trying to stay away from the crowds,” Hermann said.
Co-owner Irene Schaefer took care of the latter goal. She counted every person who came in and made sure the census never exceeded 10.
Like many business owners, Schaefer said the year of the pandemic had been hard on the shop, but she sounded optimistic heading into the holiday season.
“It’s been a slow start getting back — but we’re getting back,” she said.
There are some indications the retail sector itself is poised to do the same this holiday season after taking bruising hits amid the lockdowns and uneven recovery this year, even if much of the boost happens online.
Experts predict strong sales
The National Retail Federation, the country’s retail trade group, is predicting sales for the November and December period to increase between 3.6 percent and 5.2 percent over 2019, compared with a 4 percent increase the year before.
Jack Kleinhenz, the NRF’s chief economist, said that after such a difficult year, “there’s going to be a psychological factor that (people) owe it to themselves and their families to have a better-than-normal holiday.”
And while the trade group is often optimistic, there are some good signs elsewhere, too.
Online spending on Thanksgiving Day hit a record $5.1 billion Thursday, up more than 20 percent compared to a year ago, according to Adobe Analytics, and Black Friday was projected at $10 billion, a 39 percent bump from last year.
Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, is expected to remain the biggest online shopping day of the year with $12.7 billion in sales, a 35 percent jump, Adobe said.
Malls hard hit by pandemic
There will likely be a divide depending on where retailers are, though.
For the fiscal third quarter, mall-based retailers saw their profits down 20 percent while big box stores and other retailers that operate outside a traditional mall posted a 19 percent increase, according to RetailMetrics’ tally of roughly 100 companies.
For the fiscal fourth quarter, mall-based retailers are expected to see profits down 31 percent, while off-mall stores should see profits up 1 percent.
But those kinds of concerns seemed far away in the early afternoon hours at Mother’s Brewing Company, where Black Friday meant opening the cellars for a once-a-year treat.
The doors opened at 1 p.m. to a room where specialty bombers of beer were available in abundance and fans came out with boxes full of brews.
Charles Taylor was one of them and took out a Barrel Aged Von Schrag — an imperial oatmeal stout with coconut and Askinosie chocolate — when asked to name his best buy.
“This is the good stuff,” he said through his mask. “This is the good stuff.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader’s politics reporter. Got something he should know? Have a question? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at email@example.com.