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Area retailers prep for a pandemic Black Friday

With national and local retailers beginning Black Friday sales as early as late-October, this year's Black Friday is beginning "sooner than ever" but will look "much different," Adams said.

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Shoppers come and go from the Target store at 4202 13th Ave S. in Fargo Friday, Nov. 24, 2017. David Samson / The Forum
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FARGO — Count Black Friday among the aspects of life impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The virus has forced Fargo-Moorhead retailers, both national and local, to retool their Black Friday offerings.

The COVID-19 pandemic has driven the push for an earlier Black Friday, with national and local retailers alike citing safety and crowd concerns as reasons for spacing out their offerings. Best Buy, Target and Walmart are all offering rotating sales on a weekly basis in a move to cut down on the throngs of shoppers the single-day Black Friday would draw.

National big-box stores such as Best Buy, Target and Walmart have all begun offering Black Friday sales already. Best Buy, which moved into the former Sears location at West Acres Shopping Center , began offering Black Friday deals on Thursday, Oct. 29. Target opened its shopping season on Nov. 1, while Walmart started on Nov. 4.

Scheels, located at 1551 45th St. S., also plans to commence its Black Friday sales early, according to Chief Marketing Officer Marcus Thornton. " In similar fashion to other major retailers, we will start our Day After Thanksgiving specials both in store and online in advance and run the entire week as an attempt to reduce the amount of traffic on one specific day," he said.

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Like others, West Acres plans to spread its marquee Black Friday kick-off event across a greater length of time. The mall plans to host "It's a Wonderful Week," an event which will include sales and prize giveaways. "We as well as our stores are working to spread that traffic out throughout the week to avoid crowds," West Acres Chief Operating Officer Alissa Adams said.

It all culminates in a Black Friday that's beginning "sooner than ever" but will look "much different", Adams said.

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Alissa Adams is the chief operating officer of West Acres Development. (Photo submitted by West Acres Development)

In previous years, West Acres would see between 70,000 and 75,000 shoppers fill its corridors for Black Friday, according to Adams. "Historically it has been the busiest shopping day of the season," she said. "Over the past few years that’s really been a combination of Thursday into Friday as retailers have been open on Thanksgiving itself."

West Acres will be closed on Thanksgiving, however, mirroring a national trend. Walmart announced its decision to close for the holiday on July 21, with Target and Best Buy quickly following suit.

"We want to make sure that [employees] have that day to relax and spend safely with family or small groups," Adams said. "It's a trend that we've seen not only locally but across the country as well in retail."

Inside, West Acres implemented a mask mandate in August, which Adams said has been well-received. "Things have been going very well, as well as they can be expected in this scenario," she said. "Stores have really stepped up with everything that they're doing to ensure that it's still a great experience for guests."

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West Acres Shopping Center is seen Monday, Oct. 12, at 3902 13th Ave. S., Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Stores have also implemented varying capacity limitations, and those that do not have capacity limitations have still maintained safe crowds. Because of COVID-19 and its spaced-out Black Friday program, the mall is not anticipating capacity issues during the extended shopping season, Adams said.

West Acres has also seen traffic rebound since it opted to close for seven weeks at the onset of the pandemic. "Traffic has come back stronger initially than we anticipated," Adams said. "Sales are back. People that are coming out are shopping and handling their visits in a productive matter." That includes minimizing what Adams called "dwell time" when shoppers aren't actively shopping.

"Some stores are impacted more than others, so it's not across the board, but in general things have been going well," Adams concluded.

Thomas Evanella is a reporter for The Forum. He's worked for The Forum for over two years, primarily reporting on business news. Reach him at tevanella@forumcomm.com or by calling 701-353-8363. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasEvanella.
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