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Retailers optimistic as shopping spree kicks off

11/23/20 Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski / Kim Rickert of Lewistown shops at Unkel Joe's Woodshed in the Pleasant Valley Shopping Center.

As shoppers converge on area stores today, they are finding a different Black Friday than they have experienced in years past.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll.

“We know this holiday season will be unlike any other, and retailers have planned ahead by investing billions of dollars to ensure the health and safety of their employees and customers,” National Retail Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement. “Consumers have shown they are excited about the holidays and are willing to spend on gifts that lift the spirits of family and friends after such a challenging year.”

The federation is predicting a good holiday shopping season — and a prosperous Black Friday weekend.

With retail sales rebounding strongly due to continued consumer resilience, the NRF is forecasting that holiday sales during November and December will increase between 3.6% and 5.2% over 2019 to a total between $755.3 billion and $766.7 billion. The numbers, which exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants, compare with a 4% increase to $729.1 billion last year and an average holiday sales increase of 3.5% over the past five years.

“When thinking about Black Friday, it is important to note that over the past several years, Black Friday and Cyber Monday have evolved into a full five-day shopping event across both stores and online. Last year, just as many consumers shopped online on Black Friday as on Cyber Monday. This year, with the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, retailers are ensuring that consumers have the opportunity to safely find great deals however they choose to shop,” NRF spokesman Craig Shearman said.

“Traditionally, holiday shoppers spend a third of their holiday budget during the Thanksgiving shopping weekend,” he said.

Some stores closed

Some big chains like Walmart, Macy’s and Lowe’s — which had opened for several hours on Thanksgiving to give shoppers an earlier start — closed on Thanksgiving Day this year. Walmart closed for the November holiday for the first time since the late 1980s.

=Walmart and several others opened their doors at 5 a.m. today.

Walmart ramped up its Black Friday savings this year from a single day to three events to bring customers “Black Friday Deals for Days.”

“Although this year’s event looks different, our commitment to what our customers depend on us for – the absolute best prices of the season on hot gifts from top brands – hasn’t changed,” said Scott McCall, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer for Walmart U.S., in a statement.

“We’ve been very thoughtful as we planned this year’s event. By spreading deals out across multiple days and making our hottest deals available online. We expect the Black Friday experience in our stores will be safer and more manageable for both our customers and our associates.”

Some local merchants aren’t sure what to expect today.

“It is typical 2020 — we are not sure what to expect. I have hopeful expectations, with the big box stores not doing mega blasts and encouraging people to shop safely it may be helpful to small businesses,” said Tim Baker, general manager of Unkel Joe’s Woodshed in the Pleasant Valley Shopping Center. “We will operate as usual — 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. More people may shop local. We are in good shape. We were able to react early and have enough Christmas stuff.”

“We have all of the safety precautions in place like hand sanitizer, social distancing and plastic coverings over the registers. We want to try and operate as normal as possible so people don’t have a weird experience. We want to make it as pleasurable as we can.”

Small Business Saturday

LaVonne Falbo, owner of LaVintage Decor in Juniata, said, “I don’t know what will happen. Some of the big box stores aren’t open (on Thanksgiving). We may have more Black Friday shoppers than we typically do.

“There is a question mark because of COVID, but we will do our best. I hope I have a problem of limiting the number of people in the store. I think we need more than ever this year to shop small as much as possible and supplement the rest online.”

Baker and Falbo said Black Friday is usually a big day for their businesses.

“It is a very big day for us — both Friday and Saturday,” Baker said. “They are bigger than any other Friday and Saturday of the year. We probably do double or triple the business of a normal Friday and Saturday. We are overly optimistic and hopeful it will be a good holiday season.”

Falbo said, “Black Friday is big for us but Small Business Saturday always beats it.”

President Michael Kranich Jr. of Kranich’s Jewelers is optimistic.

“We appreciate how kind and patient our customers have been this year, and we also appreciate how much people are supporting local businesses,” Kranich said. “Black Friday is always a big sales weekend, and we expect this year to be very big.

“We are expecting a very strong holiday season. People have put off travel and other expenses, and many have decided to buy themselves something nice this year. We are also seeing an enormous increase in engagement ring sales.”

Don Beerbower and Andrea Hammel said Black Friday is not usually a big day for their businesses.

“I am not expecting a whole lot. In the past, I’ve had some good Black Fridays, but it has never been huge for me as an independent retailer,” said Beerbower, president of Beerbower Jewelers, Hollidaysburg.

“Black Friday is geared more to the big box stores with toys and electronics. Hundreds of people don’t wait in line for retail jewelry stores. The big box stores have it; it is a family tradition for some to go out and get toys for the kids. This year, people may be kind of cautious. COVID will have a factor in retail sales as well as the Christmas season.”

Hammel, owner of Peterman’s Flower Shop in Juniata, said, “Black Friday is typically very quiet for us, but I feel we should be prepared for things being a little different. We have seen an increase in web orders.

“There seems to be a resurgence of shopping locally. Black Friday and Small Business Saturday may be better for us than years past. No one really knows what to expect.”

Early promotions

Many of the big chain stores started their Black Friday promotions earlier than usual this year.

Macy’s, which has a store in the Logan Valley Mall, started Nov. 4.

“This year, Black Friday at Macy’s is about allowing our customer to shop when, where and how they want — safely and friction free,” said Abigail James, Macy’s senior vice president of customer activation, in a statement.

J.C. Penney Co. began Black Friday sales Nov. 20.

“While newness is a key theme at J.C. Penney this season, the focus on the health and safety of all J.C. Penney customers and associates remains the company’s highest priority. Store associates are successfully maintaining store capacity limits and social distancing within line queues, in addition to numerous safety precautions that have been in place for months, including requiring face coverings, diligently cleaning stores with a focus on high-touch areas, and holding back returned and tried-on merchandise from the selling floor at least overnight,” a spokesperson said.

Kohl’s and Lowe’s began their Black Friday promotions Nov. 22.

“This holiday season is like no other, and with holiday shopping starting even earlier, we’re excited to give customers great opportunities all month long to find the perfect gifts for everyone in their life,” said Greg Revelle, Kohl’s chief marketing officer, in a statement. “To make it easier and fun … we’re simplifying our offers and doubling down on value — including offering a tremendous amount of Kohl’s Cash and introducing customers to our new Kohl’s Rewards loyalty program.”

Lowe’s has seen its customers’ creativity and dedication to making their homes work harder and smarter for them this year” said Bill Boltz, Lowe’s executive vice president of merchandising. in a statement. “Whether repurposing a room into an office or tackling basic repairs, more time at home became more time for home.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 814-946-7467.

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