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Holidays in Pandemia: Black Friday or Bleak Friday for Tampa Bay?

Who knows what holiday shopping will look like this year, but for some stores, a somewhat controversial tradition is off: Opening on Thanksgiving Day.
Black Friday in Tampa, 2018. Remember shopping?
Black Friday in Tampa, 2018. Remember shopping?
Published Aug. 8, 2020

Another slice of Americana — this one retail-related — just disappeared, courtesy of the coronavirus.

No longer will Walmart get a jump start on Black Friday by opening the day before on actual Thanksgiving — a tradition that was not without its holiday-purist detractors.

The big box mega-chain recently announced its stores will stay closed on Turkey Day and give employees the holiday off “at home with their loved ones” in this “trying year.” Target was soon to follow, along with Dick’s Sporting Goods, Best Buy, Kohl’s and other fan favorites.

Since then, there’s been much speculation about the future of Black Friday. Given the gut-punch some retailers have taken in the coronavirus crisis — traditional department stores in particular — businesses need the business.

So what will holiday shopping in Pandemia look like?

No doubt, we’ll see much emphasis on online purchasing, curbside accommodations and delivery as opposed to actual aisle strolling. Target plans to roll out its holiday deals online and in stores starting in October. Stores may limit shoppers and keep those carefully-spaced footprints for social distancing.

“Under present conditions, the idea of any retailer driving crowds of people into their store is a non-starter,” Neil Saunders, managing director of the retail consultancy Global Data, recently told USA Today.

In short, the tradition of teeming crowds camping out all night to storm the store doors en masse for stupid-crazy prices on toys and technology may be on hiatus, at least for this very weird year.

For those hardcore hunters-and-gatherers who shop for sport, this will be less fun, but more safe. Like a lot of things lately, it won’t be the same.

The practice of stores opening on Thanksgiving, while very American, is not without controversy.

Holiday decorations entice shoppers to the Toy Shop at a Walmart Supercenter last year.
Holiday decorations entice shoppers to the Toy Shop at a Walmart Supercenter last year. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | TImes ]

To some, it seemed nearly mercenary, the idea of people leaving home and family to drive to work, get behind a cash register and brace for the shopper onslaught before the pumpkin pie had been served. There was the feeling a holiday ought to be a holiday. Some called it hyper-consumerism.

“No family should have to reschedule Thanksgiving because a family member had to work retail!” read a Facebook boycott page dedicated to listing open or closed stores as naughty or nice.

To be fair, it should also be noted that there were employees who said they were happy for the holiday hours and holiday pay.

Another burr under the collar for those holiday shopping purists: stores that routinely stock shelves for one holiday before the other has a chance to be a memory. Think pastel grass and marshmallow Peeps at the grocery store before you’ve taken down the Christmas tree.

Candy corn in August? (AP Photo/Chattanooga Times and Free Press, Alex McMahan)
Candy corn in August? (AP Photo/Chattanooga Times and Free Press, Alex McMahan)

On a recent masked-up foray into stores, I witnessed black-and-orange Halloween decorations, paper harvest leaves and cardboard turkeys out in full force.

For the record, it is August.

But can you blame retailers for wanting a jump start, particularly this year?

Cardboard turkeys in August seem more forgivable, more we-need-a-little-Christmas, in the current state of the world.