Black Friday shopping taking many forms around Delaware

Along with many things, COVID-19 may have knocked some of the retail stuffing out of Black Friday this year.

While some retailers will still offer bargains in traditional Black Friday fashion, small businesses Downstate faced with capacity limits and public health concerns are opting for alternatives.

“Obviously, this year’s holiday shopping season and Black Friday are going to look quite different from those of years past,” said Delaware Division of Small Business spokesman Michael Chesney, noting the National Retail Federation has some “really useful information what that means” on its website – nrf.com.

Some businesses launched Black Friday sales campaigns in advance.

“There are a number of the businesses who kind of started Black Friday specials at the very beginning of November and are running them through the month due to the fact that they are limited in their capacity,” said Judy Diogo, president of the 850-member Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce.

“Most of retail, they are still operating at the 60% capacity. So, in light of that, I think a lot of them got a jump on it. That way they could get more people to come in throughout the month and avoid overcrowding.”

Shopping local

Echoing throughout the region is a familiar jingle: Shop Local.

In Georgetown, the day after Black Friday is a target day.

“The chamber has been more focused on Small Business Saturday, but our message has been to shop local, shop small business,” said Linda Price, Greater Georgetown Chamber of Commerce president. “I have also said that your purchase to a small business could be what keeps that shop open. We all need to support our local stores, restaurants and more especially with the new restrictions.”

Ditto for Downtown Dover, which has geared up for Shop Small Business Saturday with specials, discounts and chances to win $100 American Express gift cards by patronizing shops and businesses on Lockerman Street, Governors Avenue and State Street.

Along the Kent/Sussex County border, the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Milford is supporting the local movement every day.

“Although Shop Small Saturday is set to be celebrated this Saturday, here at the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Milford we have been promoting shopping early, shopping local and shopping safe for several weeks now, primarily through our email blasts and social media,” said Jo Schmeiser, Chamber of Commerce of Greater Milford executive director.

“Our chamber has also been working with the Delaware Association of Chambers to promote shopping local now, whether it’s in person or online, just as long as we’re making sure to support the communities in which we live, work and play. We’re all spreading the message and importance of buying local, as we’ve already seen or heard about several businesses closing this year, and we’re doing whatever we can to make sure that trend does not continue.”

Additionally, Ms. Schmeiser said each chamber is doing their own promotions.

“We’re all sharing the same message … buy early, buy local, buy safe. We realize this Saturday is celebrated all over the state and country as Shop Small Saturday, and we encourage folks shop on Saturday. However, now more than ever it is important to remember your local businesses for more than just one day,” said Ms. Schmeiser.

Shopping safely

Ms. Diogo says an important message needs to be spread and reverberate throughout the holiday season.

“And that is: it is safe to go out and shop. It is safe to go our local restaurants and eat. Our businesses, that is their top priority, keeping their employees and customers safe. And they have worked tirelessly to make that happen,” said Ms. Diogo. “We also want people to know is that all of our small business folks have really been working around the clock to make sure that their places of business are clean, are sanitized, so that people can feel safe.”

“A good way to know if a business is working to follow safety guidelines and protocols is to look for the COVID-19 Customer Protection Standards shield at the front door,” said Mr. Chesney, noting the program is for all businesses, not just retail.

“The statewide program is a way for small businesses to show they are implementing procedures to keep their customers safe and for customers to feel confident as they shop. Businesses complete a checklist to get the window sticker. DSB then includes them on a map and database available at www.delbiz.com/protect. Approximately 750 businesses participate in the program.”

Around Downstate, the retail beat goes on.

Sussex shopping

Along south coastal Delaware, there’s another holiday shopping initiative. It’s coined Shop Local Extravaganza.

The event encourages patrons to “Shop, Savor, Stay & Splurge” at local participating businesses in “The Quiet Resorts” on Saturdays Dec. 5, 12, and 19 to be entered to win prizes, which include one of three $500 grand prizes.

“Shoppers must spend $20 or more at the business on those specific dates to be entered to win,” said Melissa O’Brien, marketing and communications manager with the Bethany/Fenwick Chamber of Commerce. “Once entered, there are multiple chances to win, as the stores will be doing individual raffles and we have tons of grand prizes.”

Rehoboth Beach commissioners, at their Nov. 20 regular meeting, approved a proposal to proclaim Small Business Saturday. Mayor Stan Mills signed a proclamation declaring Nov. 28, 2020, as Small Business Saturday in the city.

“The city celebrates our local small businesses and the contributions they make to our local economy and community,” the proclamation reads in part. “The City of Rehoboth Beach supports our local businesses that create jobs, boost our local economy, and preserve our communities. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our city.”

Small businesses are responsible for 64.9% of net new jobs created from 2000 to 2018, the city’s proclamation stated.

In Rehoboth Beach, Tanger Outlets recently executed a beta test livestream shopping segment broadcast on the outlets’ Facebook page.

“Livestream shopping is a growing segment with significantly improved engagement this year,” said Amy Schnerr, Tanger Outlets general manager. “It is a fun, interactive platform that will allow shoppers to see outlet product in real time presented by real people from the comfort of their mobile device.”

Shopping smart

There hasn’t been much discussion concerning Black Friday or further into the shopping days within the ranks of the Greater Millsboro Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s a tug-o-war of conversation … between those who live in fear and those who refuse to have their liberty taken away,” said Greater Millsboro Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Turner. “The only advice or recommendations the chamber would have is to be mindful of your surroundings for your physical safety and try to adhere to the COVID precautions for your well-being and others.”

On Nov. 18, Gov. John Carney responded to increasing spread of COVID, announcing tighter restrictions that went into effect Nov. 23. The major impact is on restaurants, which now can operate at no more than 30% fire capacity.

Mr. Chesney offers a Division of Public Health reminder to store owners that capacity is limited to 60%, which they are responsible for enforcing.

“DSB recommends rather than holding sales on a single day on Black Friday, retailers could consider holding them on multiple days to reduce the number of people coming to the store on a particular day,” said Mr. Chesney.

“This would make it easier to meet capacity limits and promote social distancing. Shoppers can be part of the safety effort, too, by avoiding shopping when stores will be busiest. Once inside a store, they should make sure to wear a mask and maintain a distance of at least six feet from other shoppers. They should avoid stores that are over capacity or not otherwise following the guidelines.”

Shopping online

Of course, many consumers have, are or will be doing their shopping without ever having to leave their homes, having taken the e-commerce route.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, online retail sales increased by nearly 14% in the second quarter of 2019 – nearly a year before COVID’s arrival.

“Many of our small businesses have gotten e-commerce sites,” said Ms. Diogo. “So, if you are home and you can’t leave your house because you have underlying conditions, and you are staying in to keep yourself safe, I encourage those folks to please go online. There is a lot of e-commerce sites set up. A lot of our folks are still doing curbside service and curbside delivery. They can even call one of their small merchants and say, ‘This is what I am looking for. I need a sweater in this size for my grand-daughter and I looked online and I saw this.’ A lot of them will wrap it and you can just drive up and they will put in the trunk of your car.”

“They are so many different options, because again they have had to be very nimble this year. They have to be flexible,” Ms. Diogo added.

If feasible, shopping online is the recommended route from Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of Delaware’s Division of Public Health.

“Black Friday and a lot of shopping is coming up. We really want people to think about how to shop safely this year. Avoid crowds, avoid being in stores during the busy season. Just be patient,” Dr. Rattay said. “Please, go to your local favorite shops but also look at opportunities to shop online and just do things differently this year.”

On behalf of small business and retailer, Ms. Diogo has another request.

“We ask people to be patient, because there are restrictions on occupancy,” said Ms. Diogo.

“So, they may have to shop somewhere else and then come back to that store because there potentially could be a line. And that’s what we are hoping for. We’re hoping for very nice weather and many lines so our small businesses can have a little bit of a pick-me-up because some of them were closed in the beginning of the pandemic. And they were closed down for a couple months.”

Staff writer Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com.