Black Friday: A boon for box stores during pandemic, but what does it mean for local businesses?

ST. GEORGE — As major retailers prepare to open their doors for what they call the biggest shopping event of the year, there are questions around how they will mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The question is: Is it a good idea to coerce hoards of people to fill stores as Thanksgiving evening gives way to Black Friday?

Stores like Walmart, Target and Best Buy will still have the Black Friday deals they’re known for, but their hours will be shorter. Walmart, for instance, will be open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Target from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Best Buy’s doors will be open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., at its Washinton City location.

In response to the pandemic, they’ve all implemented safety practices.

They’ve got sanitizing stations near their entrances. They’ll require facemasks. And they’ve got any number of workers who are constantly disinfecting surfaces.

Linda Carlos, who owns and runs Quality Consignment located at 28 Tabernacle Street, had her windows painted for the holidays.November 2020 in St. George, Utah. | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

But in the traditional Black Friday frenzy, local retailers are often forgotten. Some, like Linda Carlos who owns and runs Quality Consignment Boutique, are wondering what will become of their businesses as the pandemic has shifted shopper behavior in unexpected ways.

“I’ve been here for 22 years, and I don’t know what to expect,” Carlos said Tuesday. “I mainly cater to businesswomen who work downtown. They like to dress nice, and they want to find nice clothes at affordable prices. But since March, they hardly come in anymore.”

Carlos also owns the building at 28 E. Tabernacle Street. In an effort to retire, Carlos sold the business to another owner two years ago. But in the early stages of the pandemic, when businesses were being recommended to restrict in-person service, the previous owner wasn’t making enough money to keep the business open.

“She asked if I’d take the business back,” Carlos said. “I told her I’d let her out of the lease if she returned the business intact. She agreed, so I came out of retirement. There was no assistance, so I got essentially 70% of my original business.”

When Carlos reopened her doors for business, she found that many of the women she once served had changed their lifestyles.

“They’re not buying anything, because they don’t do the things they used to do,” Carlos said. “They dress casual now, because they’re working from home instead of the office. They’re not leaving the house for church. There are fewer Christmas parties.”

Because gatherings will be smaller, and fewer people will be traveling, Carlos isn’t counting on the traditional Black Friday rush this year.

“I’ve never done any sales or anything like that,” Carlos said. “They used to come here on Black Friday because it was a fun thing you could do. They’d be with their families and friends. Now, who knows what’s going to happen.”

In the two hours St. George News spent in Carlos’s shop, there was only one customer.

They were dying to get out

Around the corner, at the Bear Paw Café, Lyndsay Reynoso was busy taking orders and delivering hot plates of food to hungry diners. Though March and April were challenging for her, the summer brought a windfall of tips.

Bear Paw Café, on Main Street. Though the café has seen its share of ups and downs throughout the pandemic, servers there are still earning a living. November 2020 in St. George, Utah. | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News.

“We really rebounded in June,” Reynoso said. “Before that, I was lucky to make $100 a day. Then, all of the sudden, the café was full of people again. They wanted to eat out. I was working six days a week, and averaging $250 a day in tips. One day, I made over $400.”

Then, August rolled around. many of Bear Paw’s customers were in school, so it slowed down. About half of the tables in the café were occupied, so Reynoso had ample time to do her work, while also chatting with customers.

“We’re usually busier than this during lunchtime,” she said. Though she didn’t expect Black Friday to be much different than any other Friday, she said they were gearing up for Thanksgiving, when they serve a special meal and get larger groups than usual.

Bear Paw’s clientele differs from that of Quality Consignment in some intriguing ways. To begin with, they never know who’s going to come through the door. While Linda Carlos has a fairly easy time convincing her customers to mask up, practice social distancing and to limit the number of customers in the store, the café occasionally deals with combative customers.

“They’re still rare, but we get some tough customers,” Reynoso said. “They don’t want to wear a mask. One man came to pick up an order. He wasn’t wearing a mask, and he got too close to a woman who was sitting at the bar. The woman kept telling him to back up. They got into a heated argument. It was really uncomfortable.”

For all that, Reynoso said the crowds were still unpredictable. While she didn’t necessarily want to see more tables packed back into the restaurant, she wants to see the business thrive. A paradox born of the unpredictability of the situation.

“Last Friday was slower than usual,” Reynoso said. “Now, we just never know.”

Skateboarding saved us

Logan Marshall, an associate at Lip Trix Boardshop, said he doesn’t know what to expect. Still, he’s anticipating a busy Black Friday. | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News.

Lip Trix Boardshop manager, Hannah Ripplinger, echoed the words of Carlos and Reynoso. Like Carlos, Ripplinger doesn’t feel the need to run special sales to draw crowds into her shop, which she runs with her husband, Kris.

“We try to keep prices down year-round,” Ripplinger said. “We’ve got out of season racks with clothes on them, and we try to sell discounted boards when they’re out of season. Otherwise, we just try to do what we do.”

Lip Trix sells snowboards, skateboards and everything you’d need to boogie down the street or the slope. Unlike previous years, they’re not running any ads.

“We don’t really know what to do,” Ripplinger said. “We want lots of customers to come in, but we’re going to need to limit how many can be in the shop at one time. Which shouldn’t be a problem. Our customers are usually chill.”

Lip Trix was closed for March and April. But then business picked up again as summer arrived.

“Everybody wanted to get outside and do something,” she said. “So a bunch of people started coming in and buying skateboards and shoes. Skateboarding saved us.”

Compelled by a changing market, Lip Trix went online for the first time since they opened 32 years ago. With that move, they’ve also installed a contactless payment machine — two more changes in a year filled with many.

“There’s been lots of challenges,” Ripplinger said. “But we’re just trying to do the best we can, adapt. We want people to be safe and have fun. It’s a different year, though, that’s for sure.”

“I can’t afford to close”

In a tough year, Carlos often wonders why she’s still in business. She spoke of four consignment stores closing in Salt Lake City as a sign of the times.

“If I didn’t own this business and the building, the door would be locked,” Carlos said. “The city didn’t give a lot of us a break. They crack down on us about how many people can be in the shop, but the box stores are full of people. I don’t understand that.”

A lifelong businesswoman, Carlos referred to the building as her retirement fund.

If I lost this, I’d have nothing,” she said.

In contrast to the box stores, Carlos can stay closed for a few extra hours on Friday morning. But Carlos worries about what’s coming next.

“I’m the longest-running consignment store downtown,” she said. “I guess I keep it open for my daughter. She lost her job because of all this. Now, we work together.”

Carlos paused here, looking out the window and on to the eerily empty street.

“I do the best I can. If I lost this place, I wouldn’t have any income and my mortgage would still be due. I can’t afford to close.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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