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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Lines still formed at some Spokane stores for Black Friday, but the pandemic appeared to slim crowds

Shoppers hoping to score a Black Friday deal line up outside the Spokane Valley Best Buy at 5 a.m. Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.  (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The morning of Black Friday may have been a tamer affair with a pandemic raging. But at least at some stores in the Inland Northwest, there still were some sweet deals – along with crowds eager to nab them.

Ted Porten hauled himself out of bed to stand in line outside the Spokane Valley Best Buy in 30-degree temperatures.

He made the effort for a mixer, and not the musical kind.

“My wife loves to bake,” Porten said as he took his place in line a few minutes before 5 a.m. “And I really love my wife, or I wouldn’t be here.”

Even more astounding, there was no guarantee that the prized mixer – “normally $500, now only $200,” Porter said in what could have passed for a mini-commercial – would even be in stock.

“But it would make her so happy if it was,” Porten said, moments before he entered the store at 5 a.m.

A few miles away and two hours later, Zach Banka of Spokane was at the head of the line at the GameStop outlet at NorthTown Mall.

Like legions of other gamers, he was chasing the new PlayStation5 console. His quest began in the NorthTown parking lot, where he arrived at 9 p.m.

Chased off “at least 10 times” by security, Banka finally was allowed to park at 5 a.m. An hour later, the mall opened and he sprinted upstairs to the GameStop entrance.

Taped on the glass door was a warning: the store had just two PS5s in stock, along with six of the coveted Xbox Series X.

As the clocked ticked down to the 7 a.m. opening, about two dozen gamers had formed a line, half with their noses pressed to the glass and gauging their chances of being rewarded for all this effort.

A few spots back, Jesse Dobson weighed his odds of getting the PlayStation5 and the possibility of settling for something else. Like Banka, he had arrived in the middle of the night.

“I’m hoping for the PS5 … this is probably the hardest release I’ve ever tried to get,” Dobson said.

However, most shoppers and retailers were underwhelmed – Lack Friday, if you will.

Crowds were down because of COVID-19, which pushed some to shop online. Mindful of reduced store capacities owing to social-distancing requirements, retailers have tried to spread the bargains over a longer period.

The smaller crowds were a national phenomenon, as if the whole event had been yanked back 20 years to something more manageable.

On top of that, many big-box retailers are offering fewer “in-store-only deals.”

The National Retail Federation said it expects holiday sales during November and December to rise between 3.6% and 5.2% year over year, a reflection of the spike in online sales more than anything else.

At the Walmart in Spokane Valley, one of the line counters acknowledged that the Black Friday crowd “was down somewhat” from previous years. Still, the mask-wearing crowd stretched halfway around the building.

Kenzie Grimes of Spokane waited patiently, with two friends, one of whom had never experienced Black Friday.

“I think she’ll like it,” Grimes said.

When the doors opened at 5, no one crashed them. Instead, customers moved unhurriedly past the greeters and on to the bargains.

Meanwhile, the Fred Meyer store on Thor Street was doing steady business, especially with its signature Sock Sale.

That too has been altered by the coronavirus. Fred Meyer announced earlier this month that items would no longer be in a single long display.

Instead, it will be broken up into segments to allow for social distancing, a requirement that is affecting many retailers on busy days.

The Bath & Body Works at NorthTown was at capacity Friday thanks to its “Buy 3 get 3 free” promotion. However, that capacity has been reduced by social distancing.

“Crowds are definitely down,” an employee said.

Early openings at J.C. Penney and Macy’s also were steady but unspectacular.

It was the same story in downtown Spokane, where pedestrian traffic was indistinguishable from most other days.

The Apple Store on Main Avenue drew a small crowd in search of the new iPhone 12, while several specialty retailers in River Park Square opened their doors at 9 a.m. to a clutch of eager customers.

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