Black Friday at Fashion District Philadelphia: Good sales and modest crowds, shoppers say

Philadelphia's Fashion District mall at 9th and Market streets boasted small crowds on Black Friday

Philadelphia's Fashion District mall at 9th and Market streets boasted small crowds on Black Friday. (Sojourner Ahebee/WHYY)

Black Friday traditionally marks the start of the holiday shopping season, which could look a little different this year. Supply shortages are at a record high, and the pandemic has meant retail staffing issues.

Still, that prospect didn’t stop shoppers from braving Friday’s cold to hunt for bargains at Fashion District Philadelphia’s 70-plus stores at Ninth and Market streets.

Crowds were minimal in the morning, but picked up later in the afternoon. And the shoppers showed up with a variety of intentions: Some were looking for gifts; others were looking for deals for winter clothing and outerwear.

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Novella Griffin, an engineer for the School District of Philadelphia, typically doesn’t participate in Black Friday. But she had the day off and wanted to get her family Christmas shopping started early.

“I just came down for Macy’s Black Friday sale,” said Griffin. “The store wasn’t crowded, very customer friendly [and] warm. Everything was great.”

Christina Hatfield is a mom from upstate New York who came to Philadelphia to celebrate Thanksgiving with family. Typically, she said, she’s busy with the kids during the holiday season. But on Friday, she had a few hours to herself to do some shopping.

“I actually just came out to the Fashion District to window-shop … but they got me,” said Hatfield. “There’s some pretty good sales, they have a lot of market discounts, [and] there’s some discounts if you sign up for member programs.”

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Upstate New York resident, Christina Hatfield, visits Philadelphia for some Black Friday shopping at the Fashion District
Upstate New York resident, Christina Hatfield, visits Philadelphia for some Black Friday shopping at the Fashion District. (Sojourner Ahebee/WHYY)

Though the Philly shoppers expressed satisfaction with the in-person sales they saw, nationwide shoppers were expected to pay between 5% and 17% more for toys, clothing, appliances, TVs, and other purchases this Black Friday compared with last year. TVs will see the highest price spikes on average, up 17% from a year ago, according to data from Allianz Research.

Many local shoppers said they didn’t come out last Black Friday because of pandemic fears, but this year there’s a lot more enthusiasm to meet the holiday moment and shop in-person. Experts say holiday sales are expected to increase between 8.5% and 10.5% compared with the 2020 holiday period, when shoppers turned to online retailers for their purchases.

Chanda and Nicholas Nastasi, who live in South Philadelphia’s Bella Vista neighborhood, said they love the sense of holiday cheer that accompanies shopping. They were not looking for any item in particular on Friday, they just wanted to feel that holiday spirit.

“We just wanted to be out with everyone else,” said Chanda Nastasi. “The sales look very nice, [it looks like] people were buying mostly clothing, and we were … looking to keep up the tradition of coming out on Black Friday.”

South Philadelphia residents Chanda and Nicholas Nastasi stand outside the Philadelphia Fashion District shopping center
South Philadelphia residents Chanda and Nicholas Nastasi stand outside the Philadelphia Fashion District shopping center. (Sojourner Ahebee/WHYY)

Retail industry observers say long lines are to be expected this year (and delayed online orders), but Fashion District shoppers said that wasn’t their experience Friday. The mall saw a steady flow of people, but the familiar Black Friday scene of lines stretching through a store or around the block was nowhere to be seen. The lack of huge crowds may be due to some of the pandemic-related strategies stores introduced in 2020 to keep their doors open, including offering big holiday discounts as early as October to encourage online ordering while also preventing peaks in activity, and eliminating Thanksgiving Day in-store shopping.

North Philadelphia resident, Theresa Nelson, stands outside the 9th and Market Fashion District Mall
North Philadelphia resident, Theresa Nelson, stands outside the 9th and Market Fashion District Mall. (Sojourner Ahebee/WHYY)

But North Philadelphia native Theresa Nelson said the smaller crowd was still unexpected.

“It’s not too busy, and I’m surprised that it’s not busier than what it normally is [during a regular week],” said Nelson. “But I’m just thankful to be able to shop, to have found some nice things, and that the prices have been very reasonable.”

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