Black Friday was a more modest event this year, as the pandemic dampened the annual crazed rush to stores.
But the coronavirus didn’t stop some shoppers wedded to the tradition of spending time with family or those desperate to get their hands on the hottest items: new XBox or PlayStation consoles.
Gamers camped out at central Ohio GameStop stores, lured by the chain’s pledge to have at least two PlayStation 5s or new XBox Series X consoles at each store. The consoles have been nearly impossible to find since they were released a few weeks ago, prompting some entrepreneurs to sell the $499 items for $1,000 or more online.
“When it’s something you want, you’ll go get it. You’ll put the work in,” said Josh Collins, 39, of Canal Winchester, who waited all night at the Lancaster GameStop store with his 11-year-old son Chance to get a hold of the X Box.
The two sat in lawn chairs all night, armed with snacks and drinks, viewing the wait as a way for father and son to spend time together along with getting their hands on the cherished console. They were among about a dozen or so people who spent the night at the store, including some who slept on the sidewalk.
“It’s been a fun night,” he said before 5 a.m.
Piercen Shull, 18, of Rushville, pitched a small tent in front of the store at 5:30 p.m. Thursday to get in line for the X Box. By the morning, he was sitting in the bed of his pickup truck in front of the store.
“I couldn’t get this anywhere,” he said.
Keem Hassan, of Lewis Center, arrived at the Lewis Center GameStop store at 4 p.m. Thanksgiving, with his chair and parka waiting for the store to open at 7 a.m. Friday.
“I’ve been looking everywhere,” he said. “You just can’t find these.”
Hassan didn’t have to worry long about spending the night alone. Within a few hours, he was joined by about a dozen people including Jake Vance of Westerville, who packed a folding lounge chair and a TV in the back of his SUV, allowing the dedicated gamers to watch “Wolf of Wall Street” during the night.
Otherwise, crowds lined up outside some popular destinations but nothing like they have in the past.
At Cabela’s in the Polaris area, about 90 shoppers were in line when the store opened at 5 a.m., about half a typical Black Friday crowd, said shoppers and managers.
Even though the store, like many, has been running “Black Friday” sales all week, each day offered different promotions. On Friday, a deal on a Savage Axis rifle drew many shoppers including Chad Cites, from the East Side, who got in line before 3:30 a.m.
“I normally do something for Black Friday,” he said.
For Amanda Damron and her mother, Julie Kitzler, Black Friday is a tradition they wouldn’t miss. The pair, from Cary, Ohio, got up at 1:30 a.m. to head to Columbus for a day of shopping. They picked up a pair of binoculars at Cabela’s before heading across the road to Macy’s.
“It’s a lot smaller this year,” Damron said of Black Friday crowds. “But we still like to do it.”
The pandemic has changed routines for stores as well as shoppers. The Lewis Center Menard’s store opened its doors about 20 minutes before its scheduled time of 6 a.m. to help prevent people from packing together in line.
“We were concerned about having a lot of people crowded together,” said manager Tony Williams.
The store launched its Black Friday promotions as normal, but instead of cutting some off at noon on Friday, as it has in the past, it has extended the deals through Dec. 6 to space out crowds.
Williams estimated that 45 people were in line when the doors opened, about half the number from a typical year.
At the Menard’s in Lancaster, a couple dozen people were in line in front of the store around 4 a.m. Shoppers say the line usually wraps past the front of the store and down the side by then, and the store typically sets up fencing to help manage the crowds.
LeAmber Flowers, 51, of Nelsonville, was among those at the front of the line.
“It’s a tradition,” she said of her Black Friday stop at Menard’s. “A good time to be had by all.”
Even as cases from the virus have spiked recent days, Flowers said she needs to get back to life as she used to know it.
“I have to have some type of normalcy, and shopping at Menard’s it is,” she said.
As has been the case since the virus’ spread, stores and shoppers took precautions.
Shoppers wore masks, carried hand sanitizer and mostly kept their distance from other shoppers, especially as they waited for stores to open.
Stores posted signs telling customers they had to wear a mask and some had markings on the floor telling them which direction to walk in the store. Stores also have been offering big discounts in advance of Black Friday or allowing customers to buy online and pick up at the store.
The subdued crowds suggested that consumers were largely heeding calls from health experts to stay at home this Thanksgiving to reduce the virus’ spread. This year’s Black Friday also comes as the economy struggles to recover under the weight of the damage caused by the virus.
There were just a handful of people at Home Depot in Grove City opened at 6 a.m. and only two people at the Walmart in London when it opened.
For some Black Friday regulars, this year was just too different.
Payge Waggoner of Columbus, who hit the Target store on Hilliard Rome Road, said she likes Black Friday shopping, just not this year. She said she did most of her shopping is on online this year due to the coronavirus, and doesn’t plan on visiting many physical shops.
“It’s always fun,” she said. “I like getting up early, I honestly love people watching, and buying stuff that I don’t really need anyway.”
Her digital Black Friday has been pretty disappointing so far, because most of what she was looking for it out of stock already.
“Hopefully more stuff becomes available, because everything sold out so fast.”
By the time Amanda Collins, 35 of Grove City, had lined up for the 7 a.m. opening of Target in Grove City, she had been to Walmart, Kohls and Bath & Body Works.
“I come out every year,” she said.
Like other shoppers though, she acknowledged how much different it is this year.
“This is probably the least amount of people I’ve seen,” she said.
And some shoppers chose this extraordinary year for their first Black Friday morning.
Larry Harmon of Pickerington hadn’t hit Black Friday before, but arrived at Cabela’s at 2:15 a.m. — the first in line — to get a good deal on a rifle.
He had no plans to make a day of shopping. Instead, when finished at the store, he had another idea: “I’m going to go home and go to bed.”
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: A toned down Black Friday: COVID-19 dampens traditional rush to the stores