NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Shoppers returned to traditional shopping malls this year in larger numbers than they did in 2020 when the COVID-19 vaccine was just rolling out, but retail employees and bargain-hunters alike said crowds were still far fewer than seen in Black Friday’s past.

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Makia Ross, senior marketing director Patrick Henry Mall in Newport News, said no lines formed outside mall doors ahead of the 7 a.m. opening. Throughout the entire day, lines only stretched 10 to 12 customers long outside stores like Bath & Bodyworks and GameStop because of capacity limits.

At Best Buy off Independence Boulevard, there was a short line of deal seekers braving the light rain to snag a TV.

But for the most part, die-hard Black Friday shoppers again conceded: the unofficial holiday isn’t what it used to be.

“A lot less sales this year,” Wendy Turner, of Mathews, said.

She along with her friends Jenny Sutherland and Carol Hudgins of Hampton have been getting up before the sun for more than 20 years to join the holiday shopping frenzy. They now have their own T-shirts, “The Black Friday Shopping Team.”

“We used to have little antlers too so we could find each other in the crowds,” Turner said. “Don’t need those anymore.”

Black Friday used to be the day major retailers operated in “the black” for the first time all year.

Sales, more specifically doorbuster sales, led people to camp out overnight to get a sale. For several years, stores started opening on Thanksgiving afternoon.

However last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, retailers spread out their sales over several weeks. Again this year, Black Friday sales began running in October.

This coupled with the ongoing supply chain woes and inflation, led to far fewer sales on Black Friday itself.

However, the leading driver of the change in the last decade is that Cyber Monday has upstaged its older Friday sibling.

“There is a lot more geared towards online shopping which is not good for our community,” Sutherland said. “Brick-and-mortar all the way.”

It’s a sentiment appreciated by Lina Dhond, who has long operated the American Cookie kiosk in the mall.

Dhond said she believes the loss of regional shopping malls would only lead to worse things for society as a whole.

“You have that personal experience in a store and build relationships with customers,” Dhond said. “You don’t get that online.”

This year, for the first time she has also leased retail space with a custom embroidery business Thread Impressions.

“The mall used to be so busy you people used to come and now slowly slowly we see people that just come to browse on Black Friday,” Dhond said. “This weekend will determine if I can do this.”