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A Tempered Black Friday Leads Wichita Into An Uncertain Holiday Sales Season

Nadya Faulx
KMUW/File photo
A sign at Lucinda's in Old Town encouraging shoppers to wear masks. Many Wichita businesses are hoping to get a boost on Small Business Saturday.

Black Friday normally acts as the unofficial start to the holiday shopping season.

But 2020 upended that tradition ... like so many others.

Many of those Black Friday sales started weeks ago or moved entirely online. And analysts give mixed predictions about what the rest of the holiday season will look like for retail in Wichita and elsewhere — ranging from big sales leaps over last year to slumping numbers.

Shoppers beware

Towne West Square mall opened from 6 p.m. to midnight last year to accommodate the post-turkey, pre-Black Friday shopper. But malls crowded with deal-hungry shoppers and the coronavirus don’t play well together, so the mall stayed closed this Thanksgiving — though it did move its opening five hours earlier to 6 a.m. on Friday.

Even with earlier opening times, there’s much less incentive this year for shoppers to wake up early. Many stores started their sales earlier this month and are saving some of their biggest discounts for online shopping.

While big box stores and malls typically dominate Black Friday, Wichita’s small businesses get more attention the following day on Small Business Saturday.

Many local retailers won’t offer the types of events that encourage people to shop in-store like they have in previous years, again out concerns for spreading the coronavirus.

But the loss of in-person Small Business Saturday events won’t be much of a hit to Wichita businesses, according to Stacy Ward Lattin, co-owner of Hopping Gnome Brewing Company and a regular organizer of Small Business Saturday events in town.

Lattin said the day is less about sales — local retailers usually don’t offer the steep discounts the large stores do the day prior — and more about getting the word out to shop local. That awareness has already grown, so missing out on the shopping holiday this year won’t be too painful.

“It’s always good to remind everyone to shop local," Lattin said. “But I think a lot of people in general are just buying more throughout the year, so I think it’s not as big of a push.”

The Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce and other partners are still pushing a shop local campaign this year to get more Wichitans to do their holiday shopping — even if it’s online — from local businesses.

Mixed holiday prediction

And the National Retail Federation predicts there will be a lot more of that holiday shopping going on this year.

The trade association expects holiday sales in November and December will grow between 3.6 and 5.2% compared to last year. NRF thinks more Americans will be looking for some extra holiday cheer to make up for a gloomy 2020 and that will motivate much more gift giving — and buying.

“What we’re seeing this year is consumers are really prioritizing gifting,” said Katherine Cullen, the senior director for retail and consumer insight at NRF. "Everyone wants to bring a little cheer into their lives.”

Wichita State economist Jeremy Hill also anticipated earlier this fall that pent up consumer demand will drive retail sales up as we head into 2021.

“As we have more certainty and it looks like we have a vaccine to the COVID, and we don’t look like we’re going to have another shutdown, that’s going to loosen up some of that cash that we’ve been saving,” Hill said.

But the sharp rise in coronavirus cases across the country could change that, potentially leading to shutdowns and hurting businesses.

And not everyone has a jolly outlook for the holidays. The Rural Mainstreet Survey, which interviews bankers in Kansas and across the West, suggest that sales will be down 3.1% compared to last year.

Stephan Bisaha reports on education and young adult life for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @SteveBisaha or email him at bisaha (at) kmuw (dot) org. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on the health and well-being of Kansans, their communities and civic life.