TAMPA — In an annual rite, shoppers poured into local malls and big-box stores Friday angling for deep discounts on holiday gifts.
Kimberly Overman wasn’t among them.
“I refuse to go to the malls,” said Overman, browsing displays at Cleanse Apothecary in Seminole Heights on Friday afternoon. “I have friends who get up at 4 in the morning, and I’m like, ‘What is wrong with you?’ But I do recognize some people have the tradition.”
The Tampa financial planner is among a small but dedicated group of shoppers bucking the Black Friday custom.
“I don’t have any desire for the mall experience whatsoever, so I don’t do that. But I’m also big on supporting small business owners,” Overman said. “I really want our region to succeed.”
She scouted out gift ideas in the neighborhood shop that shares space with Christopher Wayne Home and Blind Tiger Coffee on Florida Avenue.
Anyone stuck in traffic near a local mall or shopping district around the Tampa Bay area on Friday couldn’t help but conclude the retail ritual is still strong. That said, analysts are suggesting that Thanksgiving Day specials and even earlier price-slashing, along with online shopping, mean Black Friday may be fading as the official kickoff of the holiday shopping season.
None of that was of concern to Charles Gallagher, who shopped in the relative serenity of downtown St. Petersburg.
At the Tampa Bay Rowdies team store in Al Lang Stadium, Gallagher picked up a sweatshirt and three T-shirts for himself and family members.
“The craziness of it (Black Friday) is not really attractive,” he said. “I also like the small business element of this, too — helping out small businesses.”
Team store manager Nancy Bataille blasted out news on social media that the store would be opening early on Friday and offering a 30 percent discount. That was enough to lure Jason Bruzzichesi, who said he was “on the fence” about shopping at all on Friday.
“The discount made a big difference,” said the season ticket holder and head of a Rowdies fan club. “It’s not like I don’t own everything Rowdies already. But this put me over the edge.”
Small-business supporters have a pair of events on either side of Tampa Bay Saturday to help them indulge their independent streak.
On what is now recognized as “Small Business Saturday,” a Shopapalooza Festival is set for South Straub Park in St. Petersburg from 10 a.m. to sunset with some 150 local businesses showing their wares and offering holiday specials.
In Seminole Heights, a Holiday Shop Hop has been scheduled from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. with at least 14 independent shops participating. Customers who get an event “passport” stamped by six separate businesses are eligible for prizes.
“Most people now know it’s a ‘foodie’ neighborhood,” said Greg Curtis, owner of Cleanse Apothecary and founder of the Shop Hop. “We’ve had a lot of trendy neighborhood shops and restaurants open up within the last six years.”
The weekend after Thanksgiving is still one of the busiest for U.S. retailers, accounting for 10 to 15 percent of total holiday sales, according to the National Retail Federation.
The group predicted that total holiday sales would hit $630 billion, up from $608 billion last year. The average U.S. consumer is expected to spend $805 on gifts.
“As early as the day before Thanksgiving, retailers rolled out the red carpet for their customers with uniquely-timed offers on electronics, apparel, sporting goods, toys and more,” said NRF president and chief executive Matthew Shay in a Black Friday statement. “The excitement continued into Thursday as reports of long lines outside stores on Thanksgiving and Black Friday were matched by reports of record-breaking online sales.”
Hitting the mall on Black Friday is a tradition for Danielle and Diana Nemerofsky, teenaged sisters from Tarpon Springs who crossed the bay to visit a crowded International Plaza for a holiday shopping spree. They did their homework, capitalizing on a buy-three-get-three-free offer from Bath & Body Works.
“International Plaza is really big, and it has my stores,” said Danielle Nemerofsky. “We’ve been going for a few years.”