Black Friday kicks off holiday shopping

Maricella Alvarez, at Bath & Body Works, (left) stands guard at the door of the store, limiting capacity and providing hand sanitizer. At Belk, Caleb Weppler (right) is the dedicated staffer assigned to assist customers who order online and pickup their items at the store. This process has helped eliminate store crowding.

Local retailers have faced unusual challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic this year, so when looking ahead to their biggest shopping weekend of the year — the traditional “Black Friday” weekend, no one knew what to expect.

The results, however, were incredible as local residents increased their local shopping and retailers did their best to make sure the experience was safe and comfortable for their patrons.

“We had the best sales year in the history of the store this year,” Gibson’s Discount Center General Manager Ray Curtis, said.

Curtis said 300-400 more transactions were logged over the weekend than in previous years.

“I think maybe our customers aren’t quite comfortable traveling to San Antonio due to the pandemic, and they are staying here this year and are liking what they are seeing,” Curtis said. “We have seen a steady increase since March.”

Curtis credited the increased sales to several things, including inventory and customer service.

“We hired 25 percent more people to help us during the holiday season. We want our customers to enjoy the experience and get the help they need. They should not walk more than an aisle or two before meeting up with one of our employees,” Curtis said. “Also, we began ordering supplies early in the year to make sure they were here on time.”

While he did not adjust their normal operating hours, Curtis said Gibson’s had a steady flow of customers throughout the entire weekend and 90 percent of the store’s staff on hand to help mainstream the shopping experience for their patrons.

“We had eight check stands open and employees help guiding traffic,” Curtis said. “We were able to keep social distancing in place. We also increased our sanitizing efforts.”

The larger national chain stores generally open on Thanksgiving day, but many eliminated a big draw and giveaways this year while they opted for a traditional Black Friday opening.

JorJan Gorba at Belk, located in River Hills Mall, said they have adopted all Center for Disease Control guidelines and are focused on keeping customers safe, while also offering the once-a-year sales that customers are looking for.

“It has been different this year, but we are seeing a steady flow of traffic throughout the day,” Gorba said. “This year we are also highlighting a free in-store pickup program for customers who want to shop local, but do it online.”

Gorba said Belk has seen a significant increase in customers choosing to take advantage of the free in-store pickup.

At Bath & Bodyworks, also in the mall, Maricella Alvarez was assigned to the front door, limiting customers and offering hand sanitizer.

“We are keeping the occupancy to 22 customers at a time,” Alvarez said. “This means that at some points there is a line, but customers seem to be understanding so far.”

Alvarez said she felt like sales numbers would be high, while also keeping customers safe.

Chris Thompson, of Kerrville, is one such customer who appreciated the extra effort.

“It is a little different, but I am perfectly fine waiting in line,” Thompson said. “We all need to do our part, and I love that our local businesses are putting safety first.”

For most retailers, the holiday season can bring as much as 40 percent of their annual income. Local business owners are hoping residents shop locally more than ever this year.

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