Black Friday, like all shopping, looked a little different this year because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, but the need to implement safety measures didn’t dull shoppers’ desire to nail down big deals.

John Henry Helmer, a 20-year-old from Lafayette, got in line at Best Buy around 10:30 p.m. Thanksgiving night to improve his chances of scoring a newly released Xbox console; the company released new Xbox Series X and XBox Series S consoles in mid-November. Helmer said his younger brother got him interested in video gaming and he’s excited about the new consoles’ improved rendering and faster response time.

“It’s like an interactive movie with a storyline that you get to choose. Like when you watch a movie and you’re pissed off at the ending? That doesn’t happen with gaming,” Helmer said. 

Helmer, a first-time Black Friday shopper, drove past the Best Buy parking lot every 30 minutes beginning at 8 p.m. until he saw the first customers get in line, quickly zipped home for a fold out chair to spare his legs, then got in line. Around 1:30 a.m., Helmer was told by an employee the coveted Xbox would not be available for in-store purchase.

“It felt like my girlfriend broke up with me,” he chuckled. “But really, it sucked.”

About 20 people in line in front of him bailed, but Helmer decided to hang in after committing hours to his shopping pilgrimage and became the first person in line. The 20-year-old made friends with other shoppers and decided to purchase a 4K television, so when he finally secures a new Xbox online the screen quality will be able to match the gaming console, he said.

Couple Alex Roy, 31, and Keren Anthony, 25, have been Black Friday shopping together since 2015. They said they were shocked the shopping line was fairly light when they arrived around 30 minutes before the doors opened at 5 a.m.

Store manager Jeff Romano counted 75 people in line at opening time, using a handheld crowd counter to keep track of people flowing through the door. Romano said that’s pretty on par with the first Black Friday shopping wave the store has seen in the last two to three years.

Roy said he and Anthony split their Black Friday shopping about 50-50 between online purchases and in-store shopping, but were open to doing more shopping online to avoid unnecessary exposure. He said they’ve embraced online ordering and curbside pickup during the pandemic.

The 31-year-old said their main goal for shopping in-person was to understand how deals at stores compared to what was being offered online in advance of Black Friday.

“It’s a little different because they have deals online and then you don’t know what deals they’re going to have on Black Friday. I don’t know if the deals from last week will carry over to today. It’s hard to know what’s going on,” Roy said.

Anthony and Roy said they felt secure about the shopping experience because they were taking precautions. Both wore masks, distanced from other shoppers in line when possible and had hand sanitizer ready in the car when they were finished. The 25-year-old said they also planned to leave their purchases in the car or a side room for a couple days until any germs died.

“I feel like they’ll have the measures to successfully have a Black Friday while going through the pandemic. It’s pretty much self-managed. It all falls on you to make sure you’re safe and prepared,” Roy said.

While Black Friday is typically the domain of big box retailers, it’s also the kick-off to the holiday season for local businesses. Melissa Truxillo with Big Boy Toys and Hobbies said she and her husband were hopeful their hobby and speciality toy shop would have a strong day of business.

Truxillo said Big Boy Toys has fared well during the pandemic, falling in a niche category tailored to at-home activities with kids and families. They also launched private shopping hours and curbside pickup to diversify their shopping offerings, and have held pretty steady, even without having an e-commerce option, she said.

Even so, it’s been a rollercoaster. Truxillo said they’ve had to frequently adjust their business approach. Supply chain unpredictability has also been a major issue and this year the Truxillos reviewed their 16 years of sales data and current trends to order more in advance of the holidays, with the expectation they may not be able to re-order in mid-December.

The longtime store owner and proprietor said the holidays are their busiest time and they’re “cautiously optimistic” they’ll have a strong holiday season. Truxillo said around five new customers have come into the store in the last week and said they’re exclusively shopping local this year. She said she hopes other local businesses also see that support.

“It makes me feel really good. My husband and I both always make sure every year for Christmas we shop local because we’re local business owners and we know how important it is, but to hear more of the general public recognizing it and making an effort — it’s good,” she said.

“Strong local businesses equals a strong community,” Truxillo said.

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Email Katie Gagliano at kgagliano@theadvocate.com