Lauren Casto woke up early Friday morning and hit the stores in search of bargains.

She had been shopping since 5 a.m., starting at Walmart and Target, before finding herself in line at the Victoria’s Secret at Lenox Square in Buckhead at 11 a.m. Casto regularly shops on Black Friday, but found this year very different.

“People aren’t lined up like they normally are,” she told the AJC. “No crazy people pushing, running and doorbusters. Nothing like that this year.”

For nearly two decades, Black Friday has reigned supreme as the United States’ single busiest shopping day of the year. But as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the nation, the traditional mile-long lines of sleeping bag-wrapped shoppers camped outside of stores seem to be a thing of the past.

In light of the pandemic, many retailers made adjustments for the 2020 holiday season. Walmart and Target both spread their Black Friday deals throughout the week rather than limiting them to a single day this month.

And many local malls eliminated their Thanksgiving Day shopping hours and pushed back their Black Friday hours.

Most stores required masks and limited the number of occupants who could be inside. Once they made it inside, shoppers were encouraged to use sanitizer and keep a safe distance from others.

Eric Washington of North Carolina decided to take a trip to Lenox Square while visiting family in Atlanta. As he stood in line at the Adidas store, he said the turnout was about what he expected for a pandemic: not overwhelmingly busy, but a good amount of people shopping.

“I mean, when you’re around a bunch of people you are obviously putting yourself at risk,” Washington said.

At the stores he visited, all the workers wore facemasks, he said. However, Washington was troubled by the number of shoppers he saw either not wearing a mask or wearing them incorrectly, below their nose or mouth.

“I see people taking their mask on and off, which is troublesome because unless you’re eating or drinking, it should be on,” he said.

Across metro Atlanta, stores placed signs out front detailing how shopping would be different this year, including the Apple store at Lenox, which was noticeably slower than usual. Shoppers there were alerted at the entrance about limited store occupancy, mask requirements, a touchless temperature check, physical distancing, hand sanitizer throughout the store and “continuous deep cleaning.”

At some shops, patrons lined up outside, waiting for others to make their purchases and leave before being ushered inside.

At North Point Mall in Alpharetta, the parking lot was relatively empty to start the day, though some shoppers said they came out to continue the tradition of finding great deals on the day after Thanksgiving.

Keri and Jimmy Newmon of Cumming said they started shopping at 7 a.m. The couple said they were somewhat indecisive about where to shop because they found fewer ads for sales than in years past.

“We usually come to Macy’s for home goods,” Jimmy Newmon said.

Keri and Jimmy Newmon said they started shopping at 7 a.m.

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

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Credit: Adrianne Murchison

After a relatively slow start to the day, traffic started picking up at malls across metro Atlanta.

In Woodstock, the parking lot of the Outlet Shoppes at Atlanta was nearly full by 11:30 a.m., prompting police to shut down the entrances and redirect all traffic to nearby Woodstock City Church. From there, shoppers hopped on a shuttle bus that took them to the popular outlet mall.

Outlet Shoppes at Atlanta 12:30pm update No parking available at the mall. All parking is at Woodstock City Church. There is a shuttle available. Please be patient!

Posted by Cherokee Marshal's Office - Georgia on Friday, November 27, 2020

The shoppers started thinning out by 2:30 p.m. and the entrances to the parking lot were reopened. But the shuttles continued their runs to and from the church for those looking to avoid heavy traffic.

In neighboring Cobb County, Kalisha Winston, who owns the beauty brand Policisous, said this was the first year she had operated a stand at Cumberland Mall on Black Friday. She said when people visited her table, she required them to wear a mask and provided hand sanitizer.

“It’s actually been OK,” she said. “I thought it was going to be crazy, but it’s been OK.”

Other shoppers decided to skip the mall altogether this year, opting instead to browse smaller businesses for Black Friday deals. In Little Five Points, customers entered vintage clothing shops at a slow pace Friday afternoon. Several of the stores, such as The Clothing Warehouse on Moreland Avenue, required masks for entry and offered sanitizer to each shopper.

Sarah Lock, who has been working there for a few months, said they also routinely cleaned the dressing rooms and the clothes that were tried on. She said business was slow Friday morning but started to pick up about 1:30 p.m. as shoppers trickled in after lunch.

“We’ve definitely made a decent number of sales from our 50% off rack,” she said.

Down the street, Robert Navarro, who owns Drugstore Vintage, a clothing shop specializing in threads from the 1970s to ’90s, was pleased by the number of shoppers who came into his shop. He credited the work they put in promoting their Black Friday sales online ahead of the big day.

“It’s been super busy, it’s been great,” he said. “I can’t complain.”

Shoppers in Dunwoody said Perimeter Mall was not very crowded Friday morning.

“There’s tons of people here,” Maha Zubairi said, gesturing at a parking lot where drivers were competing for empty spaces by late morning. “But when you go inside, it’s not that crowded.”

The only clues she saw of the ongoing pandemic were signs mandating credit rather than cash and lines outside popular stores that were controlling access to enhance social distancing.

“For Lululemon, you have to sign up online to enter,” Zubairi said.

Sharese McGee, 40, said she traveled from her home in Lithonia to Perimeter Mall for a specific item — sneakers — that she wasn’t going to buy without seeing and trying on first.

There was a detour into a jewelry store where she bought earrings, but she was otherwise mission-focused.

Sharese McGee, 40, of Lithonia, traveled to Perimeter Mall for sneakers on Friday.

Credit: Ty Tagami/AJC

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Credit: Ty Tagami/AJC

She found just the right pair of Adidas Superstar shoes, in olive green, but left without completing the purchase after looking online and finding them for 25% off.

“Online had a better deal,” she said.

Lisa Hembree of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, also noticed better deals online, but that really wasn’t the point. She, her sister and her niece spent five hours exploring stores at Fayette Pavilion in Fayetteville, starting at 5 a.m., when their husbands and sons were still snoozing.

It’s a tradition, their cherished time together without the guys after a busy Thanksgiving. The big difference this year were smaller crowds and less time shopping. She said Black Friday shopping is typically an 18-hour marathon that begins Thursday evening after the big meal.

They still ended up buying enough to fill an SUV after trips to Kohl’s, Belk, Target, Bath & Body Works, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart.

“Oh gosh, I have no idea how many bags we walked away with,” said Hembree, 46, whose family is staying with her sister in McDonough.

The big catch of the day: a trampoline from Dick’s for her two boys. She’d already looked around online and knew which stores had what, but waited to buy in-person because it’s more fun. Plus, shopping in-person often leads to one of those unplanned purchases. This time it was an air fryer, for about $25 off.

Lisa Hembree takes a selfie with her sister Krista Ellington (left) and niece Camryn Fields at the Fayette Pavilion on Friday.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

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Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

— Staff writers Adrianne Murchison, Ty Tagami and Shaddi Abusaid contributed to this article.