Tampa Bay shoppers hit the stores to revive Black Friday shopping tradition

TAMPA — Sebastian Arias, on the hunt for a good deal for an air fryer to surprise his mom, decided to do Black Friday old-school.

Armed with beach chairs, a buddy and a blanket to ward off the November chill, he set up outside a Tampa Best Buy at 1 a.m. for the 5 a.m. opening. By 4, a small crowd had gathered. And by 6, he was loading his boxed booty into his car in the still-dark parking lot.

“We wanted to have the whole (Black Friday) experience,” said Arias, a 23-year-old college student. And it was worth it, he said: “I saved like 30 bucks.”

Shoppers line up outside the Tampa Target near Interstate 275 on Black Friday morning, awaiting the 7 a.m. opening and the deals inside. [ Times/Sue Carlton ]

Across Tampa Bay, Black Friday shoppers hit the stores in search of holiday deals after a most untraditional year, courtesy of the pandemic. Some said supply chain-caused shortages and price hikes were on their minds, especially when they noticed some go-to buys costing more this year.

But for many, it was just good to be back out and on the hunt.

Shoppers leave Target with purchases during Black Friday shopping, Friday, Nov. 26, 2021 in St. Petersburg.
Shoppers leave Target with purchases during Black Friday shopping, Friday, Nov. 26, 2021 in St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Keyota James, waiting with her husband outside a Tampa Target for the 7 a.m. opening, said she didn’t mind that many major stores decided not to open on Thanksgiving Day again this year.

“It was nice to have family time, go to sleep and wake up and get the deals,” she said.

Her husband, Alex James, had a PlayStation 5 gaming console in mind — one that he said had been sold out for a month. Just then, a Target employee came out to tell everyone to be careful getting in once the doors opened — and to let them know there were no PS5s to be had today.

“I expected that,” James said.

Raven Kramer, 29, holds up a dinosaur toy she found for one of her children on Black Friday in St. Petersburg.
Raven Kramer, 29, holds up a dinosaur toy she found for one of her children on Black Friday in St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, 158 million people planned to shop over this Thanksgiving weekend, most of them on Friday. That’s 2 million more than last year, during the pandemic, but below the 165 million who hit the stores in 2019.

Sixty-four percent of shoppers planned to go to brick-and-mortar stores on Black Friday, compared to 51 percent last year when coronavirus fears kept many at home.

Deals being too good to pass up was the number one reason cited by people planning to shop this weekend, followed by tradition, according to the survey.

“We never miss a Black Friday,” said Selena Tepepa, a nurse who scored a video doorbell and an Alexa device at a Tampa Best Buy near Raymond James Stadium before the sun was up.

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“I like (shopping) in-person because it’s an experience. It relaxes me, like therapy,” said Yurisnay Leyva, 41, outside a St. Petersburg Best Buy where she and her family bought a pressure cooker, coffee maker, blender, a 50-inch TV and more.

Guido Vazquez, 51, and his wife, Balbina Jorge, 58, of St. Petersburg, load a Ninja food processor and other appliances purchased at Best Buy during Black Friday shopping. “It’s exciting,” said Jorge of shopping the morning after Thanksgiving. “I love it.”
Guido Vazquez, 51, and his wife, Balbina Jorge, 58, of St. Petersburg, load a Ninja food processor and other appliances purchased at Best Buy during Black Friday shopping. “It’s exciting,” said Jorge of shopping the morning after Thanksgiving. “I love it.” [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

At the Tampa Walmart at Interstate 275, Bridgett Jackson found an X-Box, but not the gaming console she wanted. Supply-chain issues were on her mind, too, especially after she tried to buy online with no luck.

“The crowd is nice,” she said. “There’s nobody pushing. Years ago, people were running and stampeding.”

But the more subdued atmosphere was disappointing to some deal-seekers, who said the combination of online shopping and the pandemic have killed the excitement of competing with other people and scouring ads for the best finds.

“It doesn’t compare to prior years,” said Ellen Bell, 37, of Pinellas Park. “Everything is online.”

“COVID ruined Black Friday,” her friend added.

By the time they walked out of a St. Petersburg Target with a full cart at 8 a.m., sisters Amanda and Amelia Burnett, 55, and their friend Shawn Crawford, 53, had already filled the trunk of their Toyota Camry. And the back seat was bursting with toy dinosaurs, remote controlled cars and more.

Amelia Burnett, 55, of St. Petersburg wears a Santa Claus hat while leaving Target during Black Friday shopping, Friday, Nov. 26, 2021 in St. Petersburg.
Amelia Burnett, 55, of St. Petersburg wears a Santa Claus hat while leaving Target during Black Friday shopping, Friday, Nov. 26, 2021 in St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

They’d hit Walmart and Big Lots and were headed to Barnes & Noble, then Best Buy. Some gifts were for family and others for charity, an annual tradition.

”We’re shopaholics. It’s just fun,” Amelia Burnett said, wearing a mask and a Santa hat. Both supply-chain issues and inflation were evident, she said.

”There’s a lot of stuff we got last year or the year before that’s not there,” Burnett said. “And stuff we bought last year for $9.99 is $16 this year.”

But they were happy to be able to shop together, they said, since many people still aren’t financially stable from the pandemic.

”Whatever we can find, we get. Whatever we can’t find … we don’t get,” Amanda Burnett said. “We’re just lucky to be out here.”

Photographer Martha Asencio-Rhine contributed to this report.

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