NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Malls were not deserted, but to say foot traffic was up this Black Friday would be far from accurate.
The latest U.S. Consumer Survey from Coresight Research found that 56% of shoppers are still avoiding shopping centers and malls because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
James Wolford. the general manager at Norfolk’s MacArthur Center said there is physical evidence that is true.
“‘Black’ [Friday] is probably not the right term to use. It’s kind of a dismal Friday,” Wolford said.
Wolford said many store owners anticipated fewer customers, but there was still excitement hoping people would show up in person for the holiday tradition.
“It’s one of those situations that even though all retailers are putting their best foot forward, the environment that we live in people are just hesitant about coming out, encountering crowds and possibly coming in contact with someone who’s infected,” Wolford said.
On the Virginia Peninsula, Marketing Director of Patrick Henry Mall Mikia Ross said crowds were steady most of the day and they even had lines at 6 a.m. when the doors opened. Most looking to get one of the two PlayStation 5 game consoles GameStop had available.
Lines formed outside some stores throughout the afternoon. All stores within the mall monitored capacity.
Major retailers stayed closed Thanksgiving this year in an effort to encourage people to shop online. However Nick Egelanian, founder of Site Works Retail, said not to kid yourself, retailers want you in stores.
“For some it is life or death,” Egelanian said. “Traditionally black Friday represents the day on average when retailers become profitable for the year.”
Department store chains like J.C. Penney, Macy’s and Dillard’s lost millions when coronavirus restrictions forced them too close in the spring. Those anchor stores are crucial for shopping malls like Greenbrier Mall in Chesapeake and Patrick Henry Mall in Newport News. The owners of both of those malls filed for bankruptcy last month.
“If they continue to comp down as they did before the pandemic. That’s really going to send shutters to that part of the industry,” Egelanian said.
All eyes will be on this first big holiday weekend. He said it is a very real possibility that it could very well be the last season for poor performing shopping malls and department store locations.
“It’ll be triggered partly by what happens this holiday season. But it will also be triggered about how fast the recovery happens after the holiday season,” Egelanian said. “How successful [mall owners] are at making their good malls better and getting rid of their bad malls.”
Brookfield Properties — the owner of Lynnhaven Mall — has already announced intentions to shed properties.
“They will go from 160 malls to somewhere around 60 to 70 by the time they’re done paring back their portfolio,” Egelanian predicted.
Egelanian said the introduction and expansion of curbside service options could serve as a lifeline for some properties. Higher-end malls could also be given a boost from home decor retailers like Pottery Barn, which have seen sales skyrocket during the pandemic.
Despite warnings,a few did shop in person Friday, like Vonray Smith.
Smith said he felt comfortable going inside.
“If you keep your distance, keep your hygiene up, wash your hands. follow the rules, you’ll be okay,” said Smith.
Some used the low turnout to their advantage.
“Not a lot of crowds, everybody has their mask on and I feel kind of safe,” said shopper Lawrence Ash.
While business owners may not have been thrilled with it looking like a regular day at the mall, shoppers say it made for a much smoother holiday experience.
“Last year was berserk. It was nothing but people shoving and kind of getting in people’s way but now people are more polite,” said shopper Lydia Vazquez.
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