The famed Black Friday shopping day started out gray at San Antonio’s biggest shopping centers as drizzle, fog, and then rain soaked parking lots only half-full by mid-morning. 

After nine months of tanking sales in the brick-and-mortar retail sector, retailers are promoting half-off sales and deep discounts to lure shoppers out of their homes despite the rising cases of coronavirus across the country. 

The National Retail Federation forecast that holiday sales during November and December would increase between 4 percent and 5 percent over 2019. 

“We expect a strong finish to the holiday season, and will continue to work with municipal and state officials to keep retailers open and the economy moving forward at this critical time,” stated Matthew Shay, the federation’s president and CEO. 

But many households are expected to depend on digital shopping for their holiday purchases, just as they have for much of their everyday spending this year. During the third quarter, e-commerce sales were up almost 37 percent since last year, according to the trade association.

Customers at Costco near Loop 1604 and Stone Oak Parkway take on the rainy weather to shop during Black Friday. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

In San Antonio, where the number of coronavirus cases have surged this month, it appeared many shoppers were willing to risk venturing out for a bargain, strapping on face masks and heading inside the stores rather ordering items for curbside pickup. 

At the Rim and Legacy shopping centers on the far North Side, droves of shoppers sought holiday deals at electronics store Best Buy

Local teachers Mia Deleon and Jair Oballe purchased a 50-inch 7 series Samsung TV at the same price as the 6 series, which has fewer features. “We needed a TV so we figured we’d just wait for the Black Friday deals to get one,” said Deleon.

By 9:30 a.m., a steady stream of people walked in and out of the store. Even the curbside parking spaces were mostly full as customers waited for workers to load televisions, big-screen and small, into the backs of their pickups and SUVs. 

But with curbside pick-up spaces nearly empty of cars at Target, and most of the rest of the lot full, shoppers seemed to be choosing actual red shopping carts over virtual carts online. 

Nearby, sale signs at the home decor store Kirkland’s looked to be attracting almost as many shoppers as the department store JCPenney’s, which is seeking to emerge from bankruptcy by Christmas. 

Over at the huge outdoor store Bass Pro Shops, where thousands of bleached antlers frame the doorways, a sign outside invited shoppers into “Santa’s Wonderland.” Customers filed in and out from the equally large parking lot, which was about one-quarter full of cars. 

At the open-air Shops at La Cantera, where holiday banners hung from light posts along the roadways leading up to the mall, and the landscaping was filled with lighted trees and reindeer, the main parking lots were only about half full by mid-morning. 

North Star Mall lots and garages were filling up as were the kiosk-packed walkways within the mall. Shoppers there navigated the sometimes narrow passageways and were greeted by store clerks and security officers at the front of most stores. 

A small line formed at the often-crowded Apple Store, with officers checking shoppers’ temperatures before allowing them to enter. 

Retail shoppers at North Star Mall spend Black Friday inside as scattered showers hover over Bexar County. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Tech and electronics – perhaps the most in-demand items during pandemic-driven quarantines – were the biggest draw at most places the San Antonio Report visited. 

Every parking space in front of GameStop in the Northwoods Shopping Center was full.

Black Friday traditionally has been the busiest shopping day of the year since 2005, with retailers marking the point in the year they turn a profit. But the shopping extravaganza has been extended far beyond a 24-hour period as retailers compete for online shoppers’ wallets throughout the season. 

The retail federation’s research shows 42 percent of consumers started their holiday shopping earlier than usual this year as many retailers launched Black Friday promotions well ahead of Thanksgiving.

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.