CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) — Yet another victim of the COVID-19 pandemic: Black Friday.
Or, shopping in person on Black Friday, at least.
Normally packed stores across the Tampa Bay area saw a fraction of the shoppers as many sat out the annual shopping extravaganza, opting to shop online. Plenty of empty parking spots during peak hours were the giveaway at Clearwater’s Westfield Countryside mall.
“We’ve been out since this morning looking around and the lines aren’t there,” said Micah Popp as he left Countryside around midday empty handed. “The excitement, the prices, they’re just not there.”
Popp estimated crowds were less than a quarter of what he saw in previous years.
Some shoppers, like Leah Hussey, intentionally ventured out much later, knowing they’d miss some of the steals but also the bulk of the crowds.
“This year, we were debating not going at all just because of all that’s going on,” she said.
Most retailers pushed back their hours as well. Best Buy in Brandon, for example, opening about 12 hours later than in years past. A few people lined up as early as 3 a.m. waiting for doors to open at 5 a.m..
“I never do this, I never do Black Friday,” Braxton Hobbs said dark and early outside Best Buy. “I don’t like the crowds.”
Research showed as many as half of Americans planned to sit Black Friday out this year. Overall holiday spending is also likely to be lower, due to the economic uncertainty from the pandemic.
But there is one pandemic trend shoppers hope sticks around next year: a Black Friday that actually happens on Friday.
“It was kind of nice to see places closed on Thanksgiving!” Hussey said. “It’s like, what, you’re supposed to be at home with your families.”
But police aren’t anticipating less crime just because this holiday shopping season will likely bring fewer crowds. At Countryside, Clearwater officers will be out in full force this year just like any other.
“I guess statistically if there’s less people, you would think potentially less crime, but we’re not looking at it from that standpoint,” explained Lt. Mike Ogliaruso at the department’s kickoff to Operation Safe Holiday.
During the start of holiday shopping last year, Clearwater police saw service calls double from daily averages, many for thefts or potential prowlers.
Police recommend keeping gifts and valuables out of your car to prevent theft and break-ins, but if unavoidable, hide those items out of sight.
While shopping at night, park in a well-lit area and have your keys ready, with not too many bags in hand, while walking back to your car. Police know due to the pandemic, more people will likely shop alone this year, but suggest don’t if you don’t have to.
“When folks are trying to maintain social distance, do they put themselves at a potential disadvantage? Certainly,” Ogliaruso said.
Clearwater police made one arrest Friday afternoon of a man in a Lowe’s parking lot. They say he was testing door handles to try and see if any cars were unlocked.