Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Shoppers enter Hamilton Place mall in Chattanooga earlier this week. Many buyers already have made holiday purchases based off of early Black Friday deals.

Terry Roberson was at Hamilton Place mall on Tuesday ready to shop to avoid a likely-more-crowded Black Friday group of buyers searching for holiday gifts.

At the same time, the Dunlap, Tennessee, woman said she doesn't fear the coronavirus, adding that, "I know it's serious. But I won't be living my life afraid of it. God has a plan."

Some shoppers and merchants expect Black Friday 2020 to be unlike the key shopping date of past years that traditionally kicks off the Christmas buying season. Many Black Friday sales already have been running for weeks, online spending continues to surge and coronavirus cases are up.

Mustafa Zafev, who was manning the R Game gaming system sales kiosk inside Hamilton Place, said he's not expecting a crush of people on Black Friday. Already, he said, mall traffic is "a little slow."

"It was better last year," Zafev said.

Rodney Bass, co-owner of the longtime Colony 13 gift shop and jewelry store at Northgate Mall in Hixson, said he's expecting "really good traffic" on Black Friday, though it's hard to know amid the coronavirus pandemic.


Where holiday shoppers will buy this year compared to 2019:

* Online - 60%, up from 56%

* Department stores - 45%, down from 53%

* Discount stores - 43%, down from 51%

* Grocery stores - 42%, down from 44%

* Local/small businesses - 23%, unchanged

Source: National Retail Federation



"It's such a strange year with all that has happened," he said. "We're forging ahead like we normally do. We're fully stocked. We'll have Black Friday specials."

Stacey Keating, a spokeswoman for Chattanooga-based mall operator CBL Properties, said that while the holiday shopping season is more spread out this year, Black Friday is still a key day.

"It's a tradition for a lot of people," she said. "People are craving some type of normalcy in this weird year we've experienced. That's why we want people to be comfortable so people can come out and have a positive holiday experience."

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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Sales representative Casey Newsome keeps track of shoppers entering and exiting Victoria's Secret Pink store at Hamilton Place mall in Chattanooga earlier this week.

CBL, which runs Hamilton Place, Northgate Mall and more than 100 other properties nationally, has implemented U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols and is enforcing mask mandates while retailers operate with store occupancy limits, Keating said.

The National Retail Federation earlier this season launched a nationwide consumer education campaign encouraging people to shop earlier and safer due to the pandemic.

The federation expects total consumer spending to average $997 on gifts, holiday items such as decorations and food, and non-gift purchases for shoppers and their families. That's down about 4.8% from last year and the first year in the last five that spending would be off, according to federation figures.

Still, expected spending this year remains higher than the five-year average for gifts and other holiday items, the federation said. It said a survey showed that 42% of people were planning to start their holiday shopping by the end of October and another 41% in November.

Tiffany Gaston of Cleveland, Tennessee, said at Hamilton Place this week that she has shopped on Black Fridays in the past, though she's working this year.

"I enjoyed all the craziness," she said, adding that store sales this holiday year aren't so concentrated on that particular day.

Brittney McCarthy of Rossville, Georgia, said she has shopped online and already done most of her shopping.

"All the deals are earlier," she said.

Many stores in Chattanooga are closed Thanksgiving Day, with the malls shut down for the fifth consecutive year.

Also, outdoors retailer REI, with a store in East Brainerd, will for the sixth year in a row close all of its stores on Black Friday as well and pay its nearly 13,000 employees for the day.

Keating said the Chattanooga malls will open at 7 a.m. on Black Friday, whereas in past years doors were unlocked at 6 a.m.

Bass at Colony 13 said he's expecting 2021's Black Friday shopping spree to be back to normal if a coronavirus vaccine comes out and the virus subsides.

"That's what we're hoping for is to get back to normal and go forward with that," he said.

Contact Mike Pare at Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.