Shoppers enter the Nike store at Tanger Outlets in Riverhead early on Black Friday in 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed almost everything this year and Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, is no exception.

Most retailers didn’t open on Thanksgiving Day this year, as has become standard practice in recent years. And when they opened their doors this morning, they were not greeted by the typical crush of shoppers hungry for bargains.

Crowd-control barriers were set up on the sidewalk along the north side of Route 58, as they usually are, to protect pedestrians walking from an overflow parking area at Riverhead Raceway to Tanger Outlets. But this morning, the sidewalks were empty — as was the overflow lot. The parking lots inside the mall had plenty of available spaces, too.

Retailers changed their approach to Black Friday this year, adapting to the new circumstances brought by the pandemic. Black Friday sales started earlier and lasted longer. The National Retail Foundation launched a campaign this fall centered on encouraging people to “shop safe and shop early” this holiday season.

Though it wasn’t the usual Black Friday crush, business we brisk at Tanger Outlets in Riverhead this morning. Photo: Denise Civiletti

“We’ve been running the same sales with the same prices the past two weekends,” said an Under Armor employee stationed at the door of the Tanger Outlets store, keeping track of customer counts to ensure no more than 77 customers were in the store at any given time.

This morning, very few shops at the Riverhead outlet mall, which opened at 6 a.m., had any lines at all. The lines outside a handful of stores were short and moved quickly.

Nevertheless the outlet mall was busy with shoppers and business appeared to be brisk.

Andrew Donin of Port Jefferson and sisters Sam and Stephanie Verde of Stony Brook said they waited in line for about five minutes outside Adidas, where Donin bought himself a pair of sneakers.

“It was easy,” Donin said, after the trio emerged from the store and discussed where to go next.

Safety barriers and an empty sidwalk outside Best Buy ini Riverhead this morning. Photo: Denise Civiletti

There were no lines outside Best Buy in Riverhead this morning, either.

About 50 people were waiting for the doors to open at 5 a.m., the general manager said.

“We’ve had the same prices all week, so people were able to shop any time and get the same deals,” he said. “The most important thing is to keep everybody safe.”

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.