In Deer Park, Black Friday shoppers find a little normalcy despite the pandemic precautions
A variety of reasons brought Black Friday shoppers to Deer Park Town Center in Deer Park, with those who stuck to tradition calling pandemic precautions neither a deterrent nor an obstacle to meeting their goals for the day.
"It's not that different," Kelly Vitale of Crystal Lake said. "I think everyone is really careful and respectful. I think they're doing a good job of looking out for everyone's safety."
Vitale said that for her, online shopping hasn't replaced the experience of examining the actual items she's going to buy, particularly gifts.
"I just like shopping in stores," she said.
Joann Miller of Island Lake agreed that it had been easy to stick to her regular practice of shopping on Black Friday. She had avoided standing in line for stores that were at their occupancy limit due to COVID-19 protocols, as she didn't find their deals worth the wait. But she thought she'd check on those stores again before leaving.
Discounts and avoiding crowds were what brought Maureen Kyrychenko of Island Lake to the shopping center very early on Friday. Being a senior during a pandemic gave weight to the latter priority.
"I was the only person in the Gap at 6 in the morning," she said.
There she found men's and women's shirts for $10 that normally cost $39.95. She also was among the first 30 people at Chico's, which yielded a discount allowing her to buy a $59 scarf for only $5. And she saved a lot of money on purchases at Bath & Body Works, arriving ahead of the outdoor line that later developed.
A sense of normalcy was at the top of the shopping list for Jim Wilkes of Wonder Lake and his daughters Hannah, 23, and Katie, 18.
His wife died earlier this year -- not from COVID-19 -- and he stepped into maintain the role she had had in shopping with Hannah and Katie each Black Friday.
Though Algonquin Commons was the traditional Black Friday destination for mother and daughters, the family felt that Deer Park Town Center would be an easier place to avoid indoor congestion.
"And my wife liked this place," Jim Wilkes said. "We've moved on. We're doing the best we can."
"It's definitely quieter here," Katie Wilkes agreed of the change of Black Friday venue.
"It's some sense of normalcy, at least as normal as you can get with masks and everything," Hannah Wilkes said.
Alyssa Powers, a brand ambassador at American Eagle Outfitters, was in charge of monitoring capacity at the store's entrance. Only 40 people were allowed inside at once, with the hope that most customers could be in and out within 10 minutes.
Only occasionally was she having to stop new arrivals and allow a short line to form.
"Obviously, it's really different," Powers said in the late morning. "I don't think we've been able to meet any of our traffic goals."
Among the challenges to Black Friday this year was the need to steam each article of clothing after every try-on and return, she said. The fitting rooms weren't open because it'd be too time-consuming to clean them after every use, which led Powers to suspect there would be more than the usual number of returns this year from people buying the wrong size of a garment they weren't able to try on.
Sue Sawa of Arlington Heights didn't come to shop; she thought the outdoor setting and crowd sizes at Deer Park Town Center would be just right to further acclimatize Hagar -- a young Golden Retriever in training to become a Lutheran Church Charities Comfort Dog -- to the attention of strangers.
And though Hagar was there for her own benefit rather than the needs of pandemic-stressed shoppers, there were certainly some who couldn't resist petting the passing dog and help her gain experience in providing solace.
Deer Park Town Center Marketing Coordinator Angelika Fejklowicz said the center's design, attention to hygiene protocols and local base of support all likely contributed to the shopper turnout on Black Friday.
"We think shoppers chose Deer Park Town Center as the place to shop this Black Friday because for many it's a family tradition, they feel safe shopping at our outdoor center and being out in the fresh air, they are wearing masks and stores limit how many shoppers are allowed inside at any given time," she said. "We also believe that people in our community understand the importance of shopping locally and supporting the stores and restaurants in Deer Park, especially during these uncertain times."