Black Friday madness toned down in Orange County due to COVID-19, online sales

Jay Olavarria, left, of Westminster takes a photo of his wife and son at South Coast Plaza.
Jay Olavarria, left, of Westminster takes a photo of his wife, Jessica, and son, Jace, 2, seated on a bench in front of a window protecting Santa Claus during Black Friday at South Coast Plaza.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Danny Kendrick and his wife, Rosa, took their two young sons, Alexander and Andrew, to South Coast Plaza on Friday morning.

The trip wasn’t to shop for the Garden Grove residents, though Rosa Kendrick said she and her husband “used to be the crazy people” who would line up for deals in the early-morning hours of Black Friday.

“The last five years, obviously, Black Friday and Cyber Monday have had more of an online presence, but COVID really sped that up,” Danny Kendrick said. “Maybe they have some good in-store stuff, I don’t know. There’s just no incentive for us to come and do it anymore.”

Instead of shopping, this year they came to South Coast Plaza to take pictures with Santa Claus. The only thing was, Jolly Old St. Nicholas was inside a display, behind glass, and the pictures had to be taken in front.

“It’s like, walk through, take it through the glass and that’s it,” Danny Kendrick said. “Normally, this would been hours to wait to see Santa up there. That’s why we came first thing [in the morning].”

If nothing is normal during the coronavirus pandemic, Black Friday was not the exception to the rule for local malls like South Coast Plaza, Fashion Island in Newport Beach and Bella Terra in Huntington Beach. South Coast Plaza was calm Friday morning, as fewer one-day sales lessened the need to get there right as stores open. The mall was, however, getting busier as lunchtime approached.

Black Friday shoppers wait in line to shop at Zara, a clothing store at South Coast Plaza.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Julia Liberty, a Long Beach resident, stood in a short line with some friends outside of Victoria’s Secret. She said the quiet mall shortly after 9 a.m. was “eerie.”

“It just feels like a normal shopping day,” Liberty said. “It doesn’t feel like the season yet, especially for Black Friday, but I have to admit that the availability is probably a lot better for everything.”

Black Friday online sales were expected to be between $8.9 billion and $10.6 billion nationwide, according to preliminary data from Adobe Analytics. This would represent an increase of 20% to 42% over last year’s numbers, even though many stores have extended the savings to the whole week or month of November this year.

Brick-and-mortar indoor shopping malls in Orange County have been limited to 25% capacity since the county went back into the most-restrictive purple tier for reopening on Nov. 16. South Coast Plaza had large areas of its parking lot coned off Friday to accommodate that. Once inside, customers could check out a mall-record eight holiday retail pop-up stores, while Tiffany & Co. officially opened its new location on Friday. The store’s Blue Box Café will open for limited service next month.

“I think the interesting thing about this year is that our business is really good,” South Coast Plaza spokeswoman Debra Gunn Downing said. “I think the reason for that is that the shopping now is very intentional. You don’t have people wandering around looking at décor, or just coming to come out and wander. They’re coming because they’re going to buy something.”

A Disney store employee answers questions as Black Friday shoppers wait in line at South Coast Plaza.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Allison Ash is the owner/manager of one of the pop-up stores, the Wrapper, which provides custom gift-wrapping services as well as seasonal decorations. The Wrapper has been at South Coast Plaza for 35 years, missing just one of those holiday seasons, Ash said.

Ash expected business to pick up later in the day on Black Friday, when customers would bring in their gifts to be wrapped. Despite the trying times there is no shortage of the holiday spirit in 2020, said Ash, who noted that people in her Carlsbad neighborhood have put up Christmas decorations much earlier than usual.

“People want Christmas,” she said. “I mean, they can’t wait for it. We open in early October. Usually people start coming in and they’re grumbling, like, ‘It’s not even Halloween yet and you’re already shoving Christmas down our throats.’ That has not happened this year. People are telling me, they’re decorating earlier.”

Indeed, Adrian and Sandy Roxas of Rancho Palos Verdes said they put up their Christmas lights in early November this year. They made a roughly 40-mile trek Friday morning, bringing their 12-year-old daughter Ashlyn to South Coast Plaza to check out the Lego Store.

Sandy Roxas said the family felt safe with social distancing and safety precautions in place, though it did feel like something was missing.

“Definitely miss the crowds, definitely miss the excitement of traditional Black Friday shopping from before,” Adrian Roxas said. “It does not [seem like the holidays], but the priority is our safety.”

A custodian uses a wipe to sanitize an escalator handrail during Black Friday at South Coast Plaza.
A custodian uses a wipe to sanitize an escalator handrail during Black Friday at South Coast Plaza. Signs were posted throughout the mall for shoppers to maintain physical distance, wear a face mask and to sanitize their hands.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The Bella Terra parking lot was crowded around noon but not totally full. Linda Allen of Huntington Beach appreciated that fact, as she stepped into Kohl’s to check on the sizing on children’s clothing.

“This time of day on a regular Black Friday, you wouldn’t be able to find a place to park,” Allen said. “It’s kind of nice. I like it. I really thought it might be too crazy. It was like, ‘Oh, if I can’t find a place to park, I’ll just keep going.’ I wasn’t going to wait or do any of that stuff, but it was fine.”

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