Old Country Road (County Road 58) was empty at about 7 a.m. on Black Friday, even though major retailers along the commercial corridor had begun opening up at 5 a.m. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Black Friday, a day that once inspired throngs of people to line up outside retail stores for “door-buster deals” in the wee hours of the morning, got off to a quiet start today in Riverhead.

Traffic was light on Old Country Road, a commercial corridor lined with “big box” national chain stores and an important regional shopping hub. The vast parking lots outside those stores were nearly empty. And outdoor queues of enthusiastic shoppers were nonexistent.

Only Tanger Outlets bore some resemblance to scenes of Black Fridays past. A few stores — where entry was metered to maintain capacity limits and preserve social distancing — even had lines of shoppers waiting to get in. But gone were the overflow lots at Riverhead Raceway and shuttle buses carrying shoppers from those lots to the outlet mall. The outlet mall at 7:30 Black Friday morning looked about as busy as it usually is at 10 a.m. on a Saturday.

Crowds — and traffic — at Tanger increased as the morning wore on, and by noon, mall security had to close some parking areas of the mall to traffic as lots filled to capacity. Riverhead Police were stationed at the malls entrances to guide traffic in and out of the site in an effort to avoid traffic backups on Route 25 and Route 58.

By midday, traffic along the rest of Route 58 was typical for a busy weekend afternoon.

The scene in Tanger 1 on Black Friday about an hour after the Riverhead outlet mall opened for business. Photo: Denise Civiletti

According to the National Retail Federation, consumers are no longer waiting for Black Friday to start their holiday shopping.

“Black Friday stopped being a one-day event years ago, and this year some consumers started shopping for Christmas as early as Halloween,” National Retail Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a press release last week.

The NRF said 61% of consumers in its annual holiday shopping survey had already begun their holiday shopping, up from 51% a decade ago in 2011. The survey found 46% started earlier this year than they typically do.

Still, the organization said, its survey showed 108 million people across the country planned to shop on Black Friday — and 158.3 million people planned to shop, either in person or online, during the holiday weekend, from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday. That’s up from 156.6 million last year but still below the 165.3 million in pre-pandemic 2019.

Target on Route 58 in Riverhead about 15 minutes before its scheduled 7 a.m. opening on Black Friday. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The big retail chain stores in Riverhead, other than groceries and pharmacies, stayed closed on Thanksgiving Day this year. Many of the same stores, such as Target, Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods, as well was Tanger Outlets, opened on Thanksgiving Day in 2019 and prior years. But the pandemic put an end to that practice for them last year.

This year, most stores at the outlet mall and the Route 58 retailers opened earlier than usual on Black Friday, between 5 and 7 a.m. But employees didn’t find long lines of shoppers waiting outside when they opened their doors. Some, like Best Buy, were prepared for that, with security fencing in place to control a crowd that didn’t show up.

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed a record number of shoppers online last year, a trend that continued during the holiday shopping season. Online shopping over the 2020 holiday season are more than 32% from 2019, totaling more than $188 billion in sales.

Best Buy in Riverhead was ready for a crush of shoppers when it opened at 5 a.m. on Black Friday. Shoppers seeking “door buster” deals were scarce this year.
Photo: Denise Civiletti
Shoppers lined up outside Best Buy in Riverhead on Black Friday 2010.
File photo: Denise Civiletti

Locally, officials have expressed concern about the future viability of Riverhead’s commercial corridor — which generates some 20% of the the town’s total property tax revenues.

In anticipation of large-space vacancies on Route 58 if national retailers close brick-and-mortar stores or go out of business alto there, town officials have begun discussing redevelopment alternatives for the corridor. The possibilities discussed include redevelopment with “micro apartments” and assisted-living facilities.

Riverhead Town is currently in the process of updating its comprehensive plan and, beginning Monday, is hosting a series of five community meetings focusing on certain topics, including the future of Route 58. The meeting about Route 58 will take place on Wednesday, Dec. 1 at Riverhead Town Hall, from 6 to 8 p.m.

Photo: Denise Civiletti

The survival of local journalism depends on your support.
We are a small family-owned operation. You rely on us to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Just a few dollars can help us continue to bring this important service to our community.
Support RiverheadLOCAL today.

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.