Holiday shoppers return to Copper Country businesses
HOUGHTON — On Friday afternoon, the streets of downtown Houghton and Hancock bustled with shoppers searching for holiday gifts.
Although the Copper Country is usually free from the shopping mania that grips other parts of the nation on Black Friday, a sunny Friday afternoon was an opportune time for community members to do some local shopping.
“It’s just a beautiful day. I’m just enjoying the sunshine,” said Hancock native Shirley Clark as she made her way along Quincy Street. “I love the Vinny’s store [Society of St. Vincent De Paul] and I’ll probably check out a couple other places too.”
Clark said that she was not looking for any particular items or Black Friday discounts, but, “If I come across them, and there’s something for me, that’s a good thing,” she said.
Black Friday is traditionally the biggest retail day of the year, and the day on which the greatest number of Americans shop. Estimates from the National Retail Federation, a retail trade association, predict that 158 million people will shop either in-store or online over Thanksgiving weekend.
One of these in-store shoppers was Harold Aardol, who was perusing stores in Houghton and Hancock with his family on Friday afternoon. He was also unconcerned with Black Friday deals, but happy to visit local businesses.
“Black Friday isn’t really a big deal with me,” he explained. “We’re visiting from downstate, and so we just figured we’d do a walk around the downtown district. we’re gonna do Hancock and Houghton. Tomorrow we might go up to Calumet.”
During the height of the pandemic, many Americans did all of their shopping online rather than in-store. But as vaccination rates slowly increase and the U.S. continues its tentative recovery from the pandemic, shoppers are returning to brick and mortar retailers.
According to an NRF survey of 7,837 adult consumers, 64% of respondents who planned to shop on Black Friday, said that they are likely to do so in-store, compared to only 51% last year. On the streets of Houghton and Hancock, most shoppers seemed at ease as they entered and exited businesses.
Tapiola native and Michigan Tech student Abe Raskind was optimistic about the return of in-store shopping.
“It’s good, shopping therapy, just walking through the store,” he said. “I’ve still got my mask on though.”
Shirley Clark also felt safe and comfortable entering local stores.
“I’m 84 years old, and just Tuesday I had my booster shot. I feel pretty safe. And I also have a mask,” she said.
Black Friday is often viewed as the start of the holiday shopping season, but holiday deals began months before Nov. 26. The NRF reports that shoppers have already spent $850 billion on holiday gifts, a 10% increase from last year which had been the biggest holiday spending year on record.
US shoppers also seem undeterred by inflation, which is at its highest level since 1990. People do report that they are concerned with inflation, with survey data showing low levels of “consumer sentiment,” a metric of consumers’ confidence in their own finances and in the overall economy.
Raskind reflected on the impact that inflation has had on his spending habits.
“Gas has been expensive, I definitely have less money to spend on things,” he said.
But while consumer sentiment is usually a good indicator of spending behavior, this year, spending remains high. A combination of factors is likely responsible.
For one, inflation has had a greater effect on the prices of items like gas and groceries than on traditional holiday gift items like clothes and toys.
Additionally, the pandemic has forced many people to refrain from traveling, eating out, and participating in other communal activities that they would normally spend money on. This, in conjunction with stimulus payments and other pandemic aid, means that many people have available spending money that they are using on goods.
But for many of the families out and about on Friday, the holiday season is less about the shopping, and more about spending time with loved ones.
“Spending time with family, I think that’s the best gift you can buy and there’s no inflation on that,” Raskind concluded.