WACO, TX – Black Friday arrived in Waco wearing a mask and wet from a morning downpour, but its gloomy appearance did not scare away all shoppers.
Lines formed outside the bakery at Magnolia Market at the Silos, and a half-dozen devotees were perched outside Bankston’s Comics on South Valley Mills Drive when manager Jeremy Root arrived to open the place.
Bicycles rolled off showroom floors, a testament to the fitness trend that began in response to COVID-19. Books did not go begging. Housewares, headphones and home-improvement gadgets made their presence felt.
Big box stores especially are projected to survive, possibly even thrive during the holiday shopping season, according to the National Retail Federation, which predicted November and December sales this year would best those last year by up to 5.2%. Spending would hit $766.7 billion under that scenario.
Annual gains have improved an average of 3.5% the past five years.
In Waco, reports surfaced that employees of several major retailers were wearing out the asphalt between store entrances and vehicles parked curbside. Online orders with personal pick-up were carrying the day.
Nationally, game consoles, cookware, robotic vacuum cleaners, slippers and pajamas were topping gift lists “among shoppers preparing to spend a lot of time indoors this winter,” the Associated Press reported.
Many retailers beefed up their safety protocols. Face coverings and social distancing remain mandatory at Waco’s gathering places. Some stores announced they would monitor traffic flow and take head counts.
“Black Friday is still critical,” GlobalData Retail managing director Neil Saunders told the Associated Press. “No retailer wants it to be tarnished. It’s still vital to get their consumers spending and get consumers into the holiday mood.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention labeled in-store shopping during the holidays a “higher risk” activity that should be avoided.
Friday in Waco seemed an ideal day to curl up with a good book instead.
“We’ve done very well,” said Ann Kalisuch, who manages Fabled Bookshop & Cafe on South Fourth Street. She said offering free totes to customers spending at least $50 proved popular. On Cyber Monday, Fabled will reward anyone spending at least $25 online with a $5 gift card.
Kalisuch said Fabled closed temporarily during the pandemic’s early stages but recovered its momentum as the holidays approached.
“I wouldn’t say any one category has dominated sales,” Kalisuch said.
“We prefer memoirs that create a sense of empathy,” she said.
Golden’s Book Exchange, a used-book emporium on Franklin Avenue, enjoyed a Friday-like crowd on Black Friday, staffer Billy Haney said.
“It’s been pretty sedate, not super busy,” he said by phone, laughing. “We’ve had people interested in the ‘Pictorial History of Waco’ and in Bill O’Reilly’s killing this, that or the other,” Haney said. “Comic books are selling well, generally, as are science fiction books and Westerns.”
Doorbell cameras and doorbell video units have become increasingly popular nationally as a home security device.
Ryan Miller, at the HobbyTown store on West Waco Drive, said remote-control cars still have traction, their popularity never going out of style.
“Games probably rank second in popularity, and not any specific one. We have a little of everything,” Miller said. “Train sets? You’ll probably have to rely on other stores to get those most of the time, but we’re starting to sell a few. Our stock, which includes Lionel, arrives for Christmas purposes.”
Haywood Johnson, who manages Guitar Center on Waco Drive, said by midday Friday he personally had sold two Fender Squier Starter guitars.
“And two others had walked out the door,” Johnson said.
Normally $230, they were on sale for $169 at Guitar Center.
At Bicycle World on University Parks Drive, kids bikes and mountain bikes were moving quickly out the door, CEO Cody Messerall said.
He said the availability of bicycles for kids has been threatened by falling inventories during the pandemic as families sought outdoor diversions.
“But we’re prepared to handle demand,” Messerall said. “We started stocking up early.”
Thanksgiving Day hit a new record online as spending reached $5.1 billion, up 21.5% compared to a year ago, according to Adobe Analytics, which measures sales at 80 of the top 100 U.S. online retailers, the Associated Press reported.
Among the most popular items were Lego sets, Barbie toys, kids’ scooters, HP laptops and Apple watches, according to Adobe.