They sat in the darkness and a few shivered. It was two hours before Waco’s Target store would open, but the line outside was forming. At 7 a.m., gift lists in hand or on their mind, 130 souls entered the Black Friday zone.
It seemed like old times, before online shopping, curbside pick-up, COVID-19 and sales that began days or even weeks before what once was the unofficial but truly official first day of the holiday shopping season. Crowds were ready to rumble. Richland Mall’s parking lot looked full, like seconds and thirds of turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie. By midmorning, bargain bins at Kohl’s had that picked-over look. Walmart was, well, Walmart. It did not become the powerhouse retailer it is by having an off-Black Friday, or any Friday.
The National Retail Federation predicted 158 million people would shop online or in person over Thanksgiving weekend, Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday, about 2 million more than last year but still below the pre-pandemic 165 million in 2019.
It appeared Waco shoppers got the memo. Even smaller shops were reporting successful Black Friday turnouts as daylight gave way to darkness.
“We’ve had consistent traffic, equally divided between local people and tourists,” said Gina Mitchell, who about a year ago acquired Mainstream Boutique, 600 Franklin Ave. “Traffic is three times better than this time last year. People are buying sweaters, jackets. Luckily there was a little cold snap. We’ve been busy pretty much since we opened the doors at 10 a.m.”
A weary Jennifer Wilson was closing down her Spice Village shortly after 6 p.m. Friday, her collection of shops welcoming “thousands” throughout the day. The popular attraction at River Square Center, Second Street and Mary Avenue, has faced down two storms in two years: COVID-19 and the big February freeze that burst pipes at River Square and necessitated a six-month relocation of Spice to smaller space on Austin Avenue.
Spice Village has been back home since August, its 60 shops under one roof returning to 2019 form, Wilson said. Multiple factors were working in her favor on Black Friday. The Baylor University football team will host Texas Tech University at McLane Stadium on Saturday, with a shot at playing in the Big 12 championship game still on the line. Wilson said out-of-town fans are arriving for the big game, and they may opt to visit Spice Village while in Waco.
“Tell everybody we’re open from 10 to 6 Saturday,” she said.
Ritchie’s Western Wear, 4533 W. Waco Drive, brimmed with business at midmorning, but owner Alan Ritchie said early visitors had not seen anything yet, that afternoons come alive on most Black Fridays.
“It’s really been a good year despite the shortage of goods and lack of workers,” said Ritchie, who laughingly added, “I stuck my neck out pretty far and ordered stuff six months ago, hoping they wouldn’t call off Christmas.”
Now, just in time, “it’s all coming through the door,” he said.
At Target, crowds would ebb and flow. Waves followed lulls. At 10 a.m., only remnants of the opening salvo remained. But by 10:30, traffic counts had surged noticeably in the electronics and toy departments.
An employee restocking toy shelves said Target practices and the retail environment in general served to control Black Friday chaos.
Target, he said, began cutting prices days, even weeks ago, broadening the window of opportunity to save on gift items. That is a practice not unique to Target, but a piece in its strategic puzzle. The retailer does not place hot-deal items in “roped-off” areas that invite targeted rushes. Instead, good deals are scattered strategically throughout the store and labeled as such.