Virus keeps Black Friday crowds thin, shoppers shift online

All indications point to smaller crowds of Black Friday holiday shoppers because of COVID-19.

Not in modern times has there been a holiday shopping season during a pandemic.

There were no lines, no fanfare outside Target in Pleasant Hill Friday evening -- a stark contrast to the frenzy last year when shoppers packed into a queue before the store opened.

This year is markedly different.

Shoppers weren’t just searching for gifts, they were also looking out for each other.

“Besides just looking at what you’re looking for, you gotta make sure you’re not too close to someone else,” said Khoa Tian.

“It’s so much different. I mean you have to stand in lines and do all this funky stuff,” said Ethan Coover.

The funky stuff he’s referring to: wearing a mask, social distancing, and waiting outside a store if it gets too crowded.

There were no large crowds at Bay Street in Emeryville, indicative of many shopping spots in the East Bay.

“I thought it would be more busy than this,” said Tian.

Despite small crowds, a holiday shopping analysis by expects US retail sales to rise .9% above 2019, with a 4.7% decrease in brick and mortar sales, but a 35.8% jump in online shopping.

A worker at Sun Valley Mall in Concord described foot traffic as steady, but added one thing that is very different this year is that Santa will not be greeting children at the mall. The pandemic will be keeping him at the North Pole until it’s time to deliver gifts Christmas eve.

Some shoppers opted for the open-air experience at Broadway Plaza in Walnut Creek, including two young cousins.

“Yeah, it’s outdoors and we felt safe coming here shopping for Black Friday,” said Analisa of San Ramon.  Her cousin Ellie said she didn’t think the pandemic was ruining the shopping experience.  “I think it’s just as fun. You just have to wear a mask and socially distance yourself.”

For everyone, it’s a new way to participate in a time-honored tradition.

But it certainly made for smaller crowds and it was much harder to see the joy in people’s faces because of all the masks.

“It just kind of reminds me we’re in a pandemic and how we just have to be careful,” said Coover.