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Spokane-area retailers adjusting approach to Black Friday sales this year; most holiday shoppers doing it from home

For The Kitchen Engine, it’s typical to see hundreds of people lined up outside on Black Friday, waiting to gain access to the downtown Spokane store’s annual doorbuster deals on cookware, bakeware, appliances and kitchen gadgets.

This year, it will look a little different.

The Kitchen Engine is holding a Black Friday sale event but instead of one shopping day full of deals, the store is extending it to three days in an effort to limit customer traffic and meet a statewide restriction that limits in-store capacity to 25% until mid-December.

“We are trying to take a creative approach to that as well as instead of forcing everyone to stand in line outside the store, we are going to try to eliminate the line by taking people’s names, asking how many are in their party and calling their name when it’s time to come in,” said Eric Frickle, co-owner of The Kitchen Engine.

The business, which is in the Flour Mill at 621 W. Mallon Ave., implemented a similar system for its anniversary sale in September, Frickle said.

“I think it’s going to be positive across the board,” he said, referring to the store’s Black Friday changes. “It’s good for shoppers and safer, given the circumstances.”

Frickle is among several retailers changing Black Friday plans to accommodate the new normal of holiday shopping spawned by the coronavirus pandemic.

Big-box stores such as Walmart, Target and Best Buy will be closed Thanksgiving Day. Some retailers are shifting holiday deals online as capacity restrictions nationwide are expected to eliminate long lines and large crowds that normally occur on Black Friday.

Simply Northwest, which is known for selling products made by local vendors and gift baskets filled with peanut brittle, gourmet popcorn and candy, among other items, strengthened its online presence at the onset of the pandemic, owner Denielle Waltermire-Stuhlmiller said.

“We don’t put everything on our website because it sells out faster in-store,” Waltermire-Stuhlmiller said. “However, during the first shutdown, we added hundreds of items to our website, so our online availability of products has grown substantially.”

Waltermire-Stuhlmiller is preparing for the holiday shopping season by spending hours adding even more items to the Spokane Valley-based store’s growing website and extending its typical Small Business Saturday sale.

“The biggest change we made this year is we decided to extend the celebration to Friday, Saturday and Sunday to help accommodate the new restrictions and help people shop with us,” said Waltermire-Stuhlmiller, adding Small Business Saturday this weekend is the store’s biggest shopping day of the year.

Simply Northwest, 11806 E. Sprague Ave., will continue to offer curbside pickup, in addition to delivery. The store created gift boxes this year that are similar to its popular gift baskets but offered at a lower price, Waltermire-Stuhlmiller said.

The General Store, whose owners also operate Argonne Ace Hardware in Spokane Valley, is also ramping up its e-commerce business with a new website that will be rolling out within the next month, general manager Mark McKee said.

The General Store, 2424 N. Division St., is increasing staffing to assist customers during the holiday shopping season. On Black Friday, the store will be emphasizing its new toy department, which sells books, puzzles, games and more, McKee said.

While The General Store won’t be participating in any early morning Black Friday sales, it will be extending operating hours during the holiday season, closing at 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday to accommodate shoppers, he said.

Regional effect of pandemic

The pandemic is having a significant impact on Pacific Northwest consumers’ shopping behaviors with 91% of residents reporting their shopping habits are different now than before COVID-19, according to Washington State University’s Carson College of Business annual holiday retail survey.

More than 58% of Pacific Northwest residents reported they are shopping online more this year. However, in-person holiday shopping continues to play an important role for consumers, with more than 41% reporting they get inspiration from walking around in stores.

Customers also are beginning their holiday shopping earlier in the season, according to the survey.

“They certainly don’t have to wait for those iconic shopping days to get deals,” said Joan Giese, a clinical associate professor of marketing at WSU, adding shopping earlier will impact the frequency of sales, which will be expanded over more days and times.

Tin Roof Furniture, 1727 E. Sprague Ave., shifted its annual two-day Black Friday sale to earlier in the month and is encouraging customers to schedule appointments in an effort to space out traffic in the showroom, Tin Roof Furniture owner Heather Hanley said.

Hanley said she’s preparing for an influx of holiday online sales and hired an additional employee to oversee the website for Bide & Burgeon, Tin Roof Furniture’s sister showroom, which opened last month.

“I’ve spent my whole career thinking of really great, high-traffic promotions and, all of the sudden, I have to think of a way to do it differently,” Hanley said.

Frickle, at The Kitchen Engine, is partnering with suppliers to provide an e-commerce option, but he’s anticipating the store will continue to attract plenty of in-person customers, who he says may see a benefit in having more room to move around while shopping in the store with fewer crowds this holiday season.

“I don’t know if we’ll go back to letting everybody flood in (to the store) from here on out,” he said.