| Sun Journal
For years, big box stores and online sales have cut into the lure of Black Friday for small, locally-owned retail merchants. And historically, Small Business Saturday has become the bigger day.
Still, it kicks off holiday shopping, which makes it noteworthy.
Covid-19 restrictions have further complicated plans for the day-after-Thanksgiving sales date that started decades ago.
Retailers in New Bern, Kinston and Jacksonville faced a holiday season like no other in the environment of pandemic and political uncertainty.
“For brick and mortar (stores), you’ve got to really go the extra mile to win your customer over and treat the well, which we try. You’ve got two roads to go down. You sit back and see what happens or B, you make the right turn and make it happen,” said Bradley Padgett, co-owner with Susan Sweeny of Jacksonville’s 16-year-old Bradley’s Jewelers. “We are very concerned about the pandemic and how it is affecting people. The good thing is a lot of people this year weren’t able to go on cruises and they weren’t even able to go on vacation. What we are hoping is they will shop local, and they’ve got some pinned up money they didn’t spend.”
He said Bradley’s has a 3,000-square-foot store, which affords plenty of space for social distancing. The store also has online shopping and gifts at its web site, https://www.bradleysfinejewelers.com/
“We work real hard and we’re excited and looking forward to a good Christmas,” he added.
Jacksonville’s businesses are spread out, with Western Boulevard being the main artery of stores such as Bradley’s.
Margolis Men’s Store, the oldest retail business in Onslow County (1912), is another of the niche businesses, with men’s stores now becoming a dwindling number.
Owner Lloyd Koonce is among those cautiously optimistic.
“Who knows what it is going to bring this year because of the virus,” he said.
His store will be open for Back Friday and the following day.
“I’m going to open like I normally do and run my promotions and carry the same quality merchandize I always have,” he said, adding his store has history on its side. “Margolis survived World War I, The Spanish Flu of 1918, The Great Depression, World War II, every conflict and every hurricane and we’re still here.”
He added that many local holiday shoppers go to box stores early and then return to independent retailers for what he calls “serious shopping.”
Laurette Leagon, Jacksonville Onslow Chamber president, said COVID-19 had made it difficult to define Black Friday and the holiday season this year in a conservative military town.
“The military base is being very stringent as far as gatherings for their Marines, which is the economic engine in this area,” she said. “We have not heard anything from any of the (chamber) members that are doing big Black Friday sales. I think everybody is being extremely cautious as far as large gatherings with the situation we are in, and not trying to encourage that.”
She said what is normally a time of the year abuzz with Black Friday chatter, there has mostly been silence.
Leagon said one activity by the chamber is ongoing – a business decorating contest, with nominations through Dec. 1.
“We will then put it out to the public and encourage them to visit those participating businesses and vote for their favorite decorations,” she said. “That is one thing we are doing as a chamber, hoping to generate some traffic and hopefully that means sales for some of our local businesses.”
The storeowner winner gets $1,000 in cash.
New Bern has the a thriving downtown shopping district among the three ENC cities, with a six-block concentrated area that also serves as the kickoff base for its annual Beary Merry Christmas celebration each Black Friday.
The kickoff Light Up the Season Santa parade and activity-filled block party has been cancelled because of the 3,000-plus crowds. But, Santa will be in his house at Bear Plaza that Friday morning and remain for reservation-only visits throughout the season. Visit www.bearymerrychristmas.com
Nov. 27 will still feature the Christmas Tree Lighting and music at Union Point Park on the spacious waterfront that evening.
Danny Batten, owner of Surf, Wind and Fire on Middle Street and head of the chamber’s Downtown Business Council, said store owners are hopeful despite the scaled-back activities on Black Friday and the rest of the season. He said street closings on Middle and Pollock that entire weekend will allow for plenty of shopper walking space.
“We surveyed the businesses to see if they wanted to close the streets for safety reasons,” he said. “We want people to have a lot of room so they can shop. Our store and a lot of other stores are going to open an hour early for reservations for our older customers that maybe don’t want to fight the crowd in the busy part of the day. So, we will let them come in early.”
He suggested shoppers contact their favorite stores for details.
Batten said his and many stores will have outside displays. He added that many stores began Black Friday sales early to avoid typical wall-to-wall shoppers that Black Friday can attract.
Current Phase 3 restrictions on indoor gatherings will have many stores with an employee at the door regulating inside crowds.
“It’s a nice town to walk around,” he said. “If it’s too crowded, walk around the block and do a little window shopping and come back by.”
In Kinston, Black Friday is a tradition, but the retail consumer traffic typically begins with the start of the Christmas celebration, slated on Saturday after Black Friday. There will be appearances at various downtown locations by Mr. and Mrs. Claus during the afternoon on Nov. 28.
Also slated is the third year of the lighting of Pearson Park, a project of Pride of Kinston.
However, the lighting ceremony likely won’t be a public event as it has been in the past, with entertainment and vendors at Pearson Park, at Gordon and Mitchell streets.
Leon Steele, head of Pride of Kinston, said it was disappointing that pandemic restrictions won’t allow the normal event.
“We had a really nice event planned because we weren’t able to have our Christmas parade this year,” he said. “Last year’s Christmas parade was the biggest and best Kinston ever had. We had thousands of people watch it. So, this year is a disappointment, because we had gone to a lot of trouble to plan the parade and bump up the usual lighting event. People were excited because we have that reputation for making something memorable.”
Steele said Pride of Kinston had lot of vendors lined up, along with performers and dignitaries and the usual large crowd expected.
The park attractions include new multi-colored lights on the 25-foot main tree. There are lights throughout the park, such as the Tinsel Trail with 25 installations by merchants; a lighted and decorated stage; a 20-foot stag; holly trees along the side of the park; and special lights at the children’s playground.
“People will still be able to enjoy it virtually,” he said. “I would encourage the public to follow The Pride of Kinston Facebook page for updates. And, we are working on a Plan B.”
He added that the park will be open to the public to enjoy and view throughout the season, with plenty of room over several acres.
“We are going to make sure we have Christmas in Kinston,” he said. “COVID’s not killing our Christmas.”
Downtown also lights up the night of Black Friday, along with King and Queen Street bridges and the town gazebo near the Farmers Market, Heritage and King streets.
“We’ve got a great vibe downtown,” Steele added. “People in the Kinston and Lenoir County area should stop in and check out downtown, because we have so many new businesses and good stuff downtown.”
As for businesses, the public should check individual stores on their Black Friday and holiday plans.
H. Stadiem clothing store is Kinston’s oldest retailer, in business for 117 years on Queen Street.
“Well, it’s always a big day, but it’s really the whole Christmas season for a lot of our customers” said owner Hyman Stadiem. “They are repeat customers. They know what we have. Our business is more leveled out. It (Black Friday) is good for business, because it gets people out shopping. It helps all the businesses.”
Neuse Sport Shop president Russell Rhodes said their approach this year for Kinston and Cedar Point stores is to extend promotions and sales through five days to the Tuesday following Black Friday. Staff will wear masks and customers must as well.
“I think we will still have a good traffic level,” he said. “I think traditionally all the stores in town do their best to provide good service to customers. Black Friday is historically the time period when sales heightened and stores began making their real profit for the year, beginning on that Black Friday. It turned the books from red to black and officially launched the Christmas buying season.”
Charlie Hall can be reached at 252-635-5667 or 252-259-7585, or [email protected] Follow him on Facebook at Charlie Hall.