SALT LAKE CITY — Half-empty parking lots, almost non-existent lines and the ability to shop at a leisurely pace.
While antithetical to most Black Fridays, that was the experience of some shoppers in the Salt Lake area on Black Friday morning in 2020.
“It was kind of great,” said Mary Schroeter, who was shopping at T.J. Maxx & HomeGoods on Friday morning. “(I) went in there and got what I wanted. I mean, there’s nobody in line.”
Schroeter, who is a regular shopper on Black Fridays, was taken aback by the sluggish start to the usually hectic day. During the global pandemic, she, like many people, surveys the number of cars in a store’s parking lot before deciding whether or not to go in.
If there are too many people, she leaves.
Crowds of shoppers, who aren’t always considerate of others, are something she does her best to avoid.
“It really depends on who you are shopping with,” Schroeter said. “I try and keep my distance or back off or won’t go down an aisle if someone else is there. … I don’t think (shoppers) are really aware once they’re in there because their mind’s on what they’re doing and getting.”
With Black Friday typically being the busiest shopping day of the year in the U.S., she was sure she would be headed straight back home without setting a foot inside the store.
So, the many vacancies in the parking lot on Friday morning were a surprise.
“Honestly, I … brushed my teeth and threw some clothes on because I seriously thought, ‘I’m going to spin around and go back home,’” she said.
“When I saw the parking lot when I came in, I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll go in.’”
Safety is important to Schroeter, and after seeing the news of hospitals reaching capacity with COVID-19 patients, she was glad to see other customers wearing masks while outside and around others.
Customers at two local Best Buy stores noted much of the same Friday morning, though the Best Buy in South Salt Lake did have a line before it opened at 5 a.m. However, no one was left to wait out in the cold for very long.
Tammy Green and her husband, Larry, were at that Best Buy early Friday. Like other Black Friday shoppers, they quickly pointed out that this year was less busy by “quite a bit.”
Naser Morad, who has lived in the U.S. for about four years, was Black Friday shopping for the first time and said it wasn’t what he had expected.
“I always heard that it was going to be very busy and (there was going to be) a lot of people, but it was not like that today,” he said. “So I’m glad there’s not a lot of people, you know, not a lot of traffic.”
Both Morad and the Greens shared concerns about the spread of COVID-19.
“We have several family members that have had it,” Tammy Green said. “Some have been really mild, and then we have one that’s been pretty serious. So it’s scary.”
Morad said his level of worry fell somewhere in the middle regarding the pandemic, saying he was “confused” by the virus.
However, they all thought Best Buy had done a good job Friday, with the Greens saying the store had been “great” at keeping customers safe and limiting the potential spread of the virus.
Not everyone shared their concerns about the pandemic, though. Christopher Sauer, also a Best Buy shopper, said that he hasn’t met a single person who has had the virus, and he thinks guidelines may be “overdone.”
On top of COVID-19, another factor that could have kept people at home is the prevalence and ease of online shopping.
Betzy Lopez was shopping at the Best Buy in Murray early Friday and before that had gone to Walmart, where she was told most of the deals were online.
Both stores were emptier than usual, she said.
For the Shops at South Town in Sandy, a slow morning turned into a busy afternoon, said Kati Price, senior marketing manager at the mall.
“I can’t compare to last year, because obviously life looked a lot different for Black Friday last year,” she said. “But I can compare this to any other Friday, and this is a wonderful amount of shoppers.”
Even during more typical years, the morning of Black Friday is typically slower for the mall. The pandemic has forced many people to make difficult choices on how they want to balance their health and recreational lives.
“I think a lot of people are choosing to shop at different times rather than coming out on Black Friday,” Price said.