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Black Friday holiday shopping in Charlotte looks different this year amid COVID-19

 Early-morning Black Friday shoppers in Charlotte were greeted with mist, fog and light traffic. But as the traditional largest shopping day of the year got underway, traffic began to pick up at area shopping centers.

The Black Friday and holiday shopping season look different than years past amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are health and safety to consider. Stores must post signs about and enforce the statewide mask mandate and limit store capacity to 50%, or 12 customers for every 1,000 square feet.

And because of the coronavirus, some stores rolled out holiday shopping sales weeks ago, even before Halloween. Other retailers offered hot-ticket items at deep discounts online in order to keep crowds away from stores.

Several large retailers also decided to remain closed for Thanksgiving Day. Local malls began opening between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. Friday, while retailers like Academy Sports & Outdoors had about 25 people in line for its 5 a.m. opening.

Plenty of parking was available at Carolina Place mall in Pineville at about 10:30 a.m. Short lines of masked shoppers formed outside some stores, such as The Children’s Place that had window signs for 50% off the entire inventory, and popular stores Aerie, Bath & Body Works and Pandora.

But at Charlotte Premium Outlets in Steele Creek it was difficult to find a parking space by 11:30 a.m., and lines of shoppers could be seen outside stores including Kate Spade, Michael Kors and Under Armour.

Christa Barnes of Pelion, S.C., decked out in a green Christmas T-shirt and dangling shiny red Santa earrings, was in town for Thanksgiving weekend. She stopped at Academy Sports after shopping at several other stores and said she was surprised that there was no Black Friday traffic.

Barnes, too, decided to sleep in this year and started shopping at 7:30 a.m.

Barnes said she started checking off her Christmas gift list earlier than usual this year because stores started rolling out deep discounts early. About 42% of consumers started their holiday shopping earlier than usual this year, according to the National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail group.

Barnes said she also plans to continue taking advantage of online shopping.

She’s not alone. Many households are expected to shop online for holiday purchases, just as they have for much of their everyday spending this year, according to the National Retail Federation. The online spending includes brick-and-mortar store websites that have become major players in the online market.

“Early data from Adobe Analytics forecasts Black Friday online sales to hit between $8.9 billion and $10.6 billion, which represents growth of 20% to 42% year over year,” industry publication Retail Dive reported Friday.

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