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Local shoppers take advantage of sales on quieter Black Friday

News Photo by Julie Riddle Walmart shopper Teresa Haskins picks up a gift for her 5-year-old daughter in the early morning hours of Black Friday, with help from Robert Eargood and Michaela Haskins.

ALPENA — In the wee hours of Black Friday in Alpena, streets were dark and parking lots were mostly bare.

On what is, in many years, one of the busiest shopping days of the year, local stores were ready, but shoppers largely stayed away as a COVID-inspired Black Friday rush turned to a trickle.

When doors opened at local stores Friday morning, shelves were stocked and ready, stuffed animals lined up eagerly, and christmas decorations vying for customers’ attention.

Employees seemed prepared, too, stationed liberally ready to help.

Customers were few, though, and stores were serene, with none of the frenzied action often associated with Black Friday shopping.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Intrepid Black Friday shoppers Nancy DeCare, center, and family hit the sales at the Alpena Walmart early on Friday morning.

Alongside Baby Yoda keychains and As-Seen-on-TV gadgets, endcaps bearing holiday-themed facemasks, ear-relief bands, mask-holding lanyards, and holiday-scented hand sanitizer offered a stark reminder that this Black Friday was different than any that had come before.

At the Alpena Walmart, five people stood in line outside the store’s entrance fifteen minutes before the doors were to be unlocked.

“I’m shocked,” said Andrea McCullough, a Flint resident who was first in line at the store. “I’m used to lines wrapped around the building.”

She’d done most of her shopping online, taking advantage of the sales being minimized in-store this year to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Behind her, 18-year-old Robert Barbato of Alpena was disappointed when a store employee reminded the waiting shoppers that the newest iteration of a game console, to be released that morning, was available online only.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Under still-dark skies, shoppers head into the Alpena Meijer store moments after the doors were opened to customers on Black Friday.

Barbato later found the device across the street at Meijer, but not a separate gaming device he was hoping to pick up at a deep discount.

Doorbuster sales were strategically eliminated by stores this year, with one-day sales on much-sought-after items like the gaming station available for online order only to prevent throngs of customers inside, according to a Meijer representative.

At Walmart, once they were allowed inside, the early-morning customers laughed in the aisles and chatted about the holidays as they shopped.

A group of die-hard Black Friday shoppers in matching t-shirts scanned the sales with experienced eyes.

The crew from Herron picked up their “Black Friday squad” shirts last year and incorporated them into their long-standing girls outing tradition, said Nancy DeCare, who shops the day every year with her sister and their girls.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Alpena teen Robert Barbato examines gaming equipment at 6 a.m. at the Alpena Meijer, his second shopping stop of the day on Black Friday.

“The guys hunt. This is our thing,” DeCare said, to nods and smiles from her co-shoppers — including 16-year-old Samantha, who just reached the minimum age to be one of the Black Friday squad.

They thought about changing their plans this year in deference to the pandemic and the precautions they would need to take because of it.

“But, we’re just dealing with it,” DeCare said. “It’s still fun.”

The group usually goes out for breakfast during their outing. This year, with restaurants closed to indoor dining, they’ll have to settle for eating in the car, DeCare said.

Teresa Haskins, of Black River, was at Walmart picking up a discounted bike for her 5-year-old daughter. By 5 a.m., she’d been to several other stores already, saving $300.

“I mean, we spent $300 also,” Haskins admitted.

The pandemic didn’t make her second-guess her shopping outing, especially since she thinks she already had COVID-19 earlier this year.

“I made it through,” she said. “It was the worst cold I’ve ever had.”

McCullough, who had been first in the door, found the mattress pad she was hoping to catch on sale and said there were plenty more on the shelf. The store’s sedate pace was a nice change from her downstate shopping experiences, she said.

“I think I’m going to tell them to come up here every year,” McCullough said. “You can breathe.”

Several hours later, store parking lots were bustling. A bell-ringer dinged outside Walmart’s doors, and, inside, employees sanitized shopping baskets.

With the busy calm of a typical shopping day, shoppers loaded baskets with pillows and blankets, mattress pads and wrapping paper, and a surprising number of cookware sets — a foreshadowing, perhaps, of a cozy, stay-at-home Christmas ahead.

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