CORONAVIRUS

How Cedar Rapids area stores are handling Black Friday shopping (plus store hours)

Stores battling both COVID-19 and online shopping impact

Sales associate Rocco Sutor hands Elizabeth Hartl her curbside purchase outside Kohl's department store on Nov. 23, 2020
Sales associate Rocco Sutor hands Elizabeth Hartl her curbside purchase outside Kohl's department store on Nov. 23, 2020, in Chicago. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Black Friday, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season, will look very different this year as retailers and shoppers adjust to rising COVID-19 infections.

Likely gone this year are the days of crowds gathering in the early morning hours to rush through the doors to grab bargains. They are being replaced by single-file lines of shoppers being asked to maintain social distancing — and more use of technology.

Target customers, for instance, can go to Target.com/line to check if there’s a line outside their local store. If there is, customers can reserve a spot in line and Target will text them to notify them when it’s their turn to enter the store.

Target also is rolling out more MyCheckout devices at its stores, allowing its team members to help shoppers check out anywhere in the store and avoid lines at the cashiers.

Walmart will ask customers to form a single straight line to enter the store on Black Friday. The nation’s largest retailer will limit the number of customers in stores to help reduce congestion and promote social distancing.

Terry Kelchen, general manager of Lowe’s at 5300 Blairs Forest Blvd. NE in Cedar Rapids, said the store is taking steps to keep shoppers safe.

“We are obviously practicing all the social distancing stuff and we will have counters at every door to make sure we don’t have more than the maximum amount of people in the store,” Kelchen said. “Typically that hasn’t been a problem. We’ve been pretty much running our ads all month long to kind of spread the sales out. We don’t usually have the big crowds on Black Friday morning, as our busiest time is usually in the afternoon.”

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Large retailers have turned Black Friday into a monthlong online event, with specific items offered on sale. Brick-and-mortar retailers are battling online giants like Amazon.com as COVID-19 concerns have prompted many shoppers to avoid in-person purchases.

Many retailers also are offering curbside pickup to entice shoppers to continue shopping at local stores rather than going online. Home delivery also is offered for everything from apparel to groceries.

According to the latest White House Coronavirus Task Force report on Iowa, 98 of the state’s 99 counties are in the “red zone” for a high number of COVID-19 cases and deaths per capita. Only Lucas County in south-central Iowa is not in a red zone — but it is listed in a “yellow zone” of elevated risk.

“Ensure masks at all times in public, increase physical distancing through significant reduction in capacity in public and private indoor spaces, and ensure every American understands the clear risks of ANY family or friend interactions outside of their immediate household indoors without masks,” the task force cautioned in a report that was delivered to the state just before Thanksgiving.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said shoppers should avoid “going shopping in crowded stores just before, on, or after Thanksgiving” to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

So how will this year shape up in terms of overall holiday sales? Nate Shenck, head of retail at Boston Consulting Group, said nobody really knows what to expect.

“Historical holiday retail data is irrelevant and unreliable,” Shenck said.

Sales are expected to grow 1 to 1.5 percent, according to consulting firm Deloitte.

The coronavirus pandemic has left many Americans underemployed or unemployed, Retailers also are trying to factor in a possible second federal stimulus payment being approved before Christmas, and more potential business closures triggered by soaring COVID-19 cases.

Another casualty of the pandemic is Thanksgiving Day early bargain shopping. Most major retailers announced over the summer that they will be closed Thursday, a change from last year.

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“We know this has been a trying year, and our associates have stepped up,” John Furner, chief executive officer of Walmart US, said in July. “We hope they will enjoy a special Thanksgiving Day at home with their loved ones.”

Dollar General, with stores in the Corridor, does plan to be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

Store opening hours on Black Friday

Here are opening times for a sampling of Corridor retailers on Black Friday:

Midnight: Old Navy

5 a.m.: Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, J.C. Penney, Kohl’s and Walmart

6 a.m.: Bath & Body Works, Bed Bath & Beyond, Claire’s, Fleet Farm, Gap, Home Depot, JoAnn, Lowe’s, Menards, Shoe Carnival, Theisen’s, Tractor Supply and ULTA

7 a.m.: Ashley Home Store, Burlington, Game Stop, Harbor Freight, Marshalls, Michaels, Pet Smart, T.J. Maxx and Target

8 a.m.: Barnes & Noble, Carter’s, Express Factory Outlet, Five Below and Mattress Firm

9 a.m.: Costco, Dillard’s, Office Depot and OfficeMax, Staples and Von Maur

Many other retailers are maintaining normal hours on Black Friday.

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