By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
For Oneonta’s Bonnie Johnson, this year’s Black Friday gave her the opportunity to try something she hadn’t in years past.
“It was nice to sleep in!” she said as she browsed shoes the day after Thanksgiving at JC Penney. “Usually I have to get up early.”
Mindful of masks and social distancing, shoppers nonetheless flocked to the Southside Mall on Friday, Nov. 27, although it was a somewhat smaller flock.
“Shoppers are apprehensive about travel, so they’re staying local,” said Luisa Montanti, mall manager. “Store managers all told me they had good customer traffic and good sales results.”
Christy Lopreste said she was shopping on Black Friday for the first time. “My daughter really wanted to come, but it’s always too busy. Now with COVID, I didn’t think there’d be as many people.”
And although it wasn’t as crowded as in years before, that doesn’t mean that the stores were empty.
“It’s busier than we expected,” said Pam Morrissey, JC Penney manager. “But it’s a great year for gifts, and a lot of people are buying home appliances!”
Most years, the store is open on Thanksgiving – with Morrissey bringing in a full spread to feed her employees – but this year, the doors were closed until 5 a.m. the next day.
“We put a lot of COVID precautions in place,” she said. “Everyone is wearing masks, and people are buying them to give as gifts.”
TJ Maxx, the mall’s other anchor, had employee Roxanne Campo out front with a counter to make sure the big box wasn’t over capacity. “We’re allowing 170 people at any one time,” she said. “We didn’t know if it was going to get busy or stay quiet.”
Although there will be no in-person visits with Santa, letters may still be sent through the mall’s custom North Pole mailbox.
Additionally, on Saturdays through the 19th, the mall will again host artisans and craftspeople, who can sell their wares in the center corridor, Montanti said.
In addition to sanitation stations and one-way traffic patterns throughout the mall itself, stores each found their own ways to draw in customers who might otherwise be skittish about spending a day shopping.
“We have some of the only open dressing rooms in the region,” said Kacey Haggerty, store leader, Maurice’s. “It’s a big attraction!”
“I came in to try things on and make sure I know all my sizes, then order online,” said Kali Jones, who came in from Otego to pick up an online order at the woman’s clothing shop. “It reduces the risk.”
“As a bookstore, we’re the safest place to be,” joked Mike Konze, Black Tree Books manager. “We opened at 6 a.m. and only did $2 in business in three hours.”
All kidding aside, he said, many of their sales come from their new online store, which offers both shipping and curbside pickup.
“People are starting to realize that a used bookstore isn’t like a Barnes and Noble, rely on just what the district manager sends us,” he said. “We’re a resource. A lot of folks are searching for a special first edition or a rare book as a gift.”