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Grand Forks retailers hopeful as Black Friday approaches

Despite the popularity of online shopping, David Flynn, an economics and finance professor at UND, said he thinks many will still get out and shop on Black Friday this year as people view it as back-to-normal activity after the pandemic. And adding to the optimism is an increase in traffic at the U.S.-Canada border at Pembina.

Black Friday shoppers
In this Herald file photo from 2017, Black Friday shoppers Candace Johannson, left, and Jen Mazur of Winnipeg brought a U-Haul trailer for their three-day shopping trip to Grand Forks and Fargo. Canada traffic has been greatly reduced in recent years due to pandemic-related restrictions at the U.S.-Canada border, but retailers are hopeful this year as crossing numbers continue to climb. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS – Grand Forks store owners and the business community in general are hoping for a big Black Friday, even as the lingering effects of the pandemic, online shopping strategies by the nation's big retailers and inflation may have caused a shift in how customers shop on the so-called "holiday" after Thanksgiving.

But with the pandemic subsiding and the number of cars crossing the U.S.-Canada border at Pembina on the rise, there is optimism in Greater Grand Forks that perhaps didn't exist over the past two holiday seasons.

“We are very hopeful that this year will be good,” said Julie Rygg, executive director of Visit Greater Grand Forks.

National trends show Cyber Monday sales are a top competitor to cut into traditional Black Friday shopping, with its online deals becoming available for longer periods compared to Black Friday's one-day shopping event. Cyber Monday is the Monday after Thanksgiving, which this year falls on Nov. 28.

Black November, a term NBC News describes as the month-long promotions leading up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, has changed how many people physically go to stores. The pandemic also caused big retailers to push online shopping, expanding the timeline for available sales.

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David Flynn, an economics and finance professor at UND, said he expects numbers for online shopping this year to do well because the online shopping experience allows the consumer to compare prices between stores to determine the best option.

With inflation factored in, Flynn said big-box retailers having deals available for longer periods of time has also helped consumers feel that they can shop whenever they are able.

“Especially with an inflation concern out there ... I think the goal is that you want to hit people when they feel OK,” Flynn said. “So it’s actually a good strategy to keep sales going because if there’s a time in that span where somebody feels maybe a little less insecure, a little more secure, however you want to say it, they will be more likely to shop or feel that they can make a purchase at that time.”

The uptick in online shopping has been noticed by local business owner Kay Derry, who owns Northern Roots Boutique in Grand Forks. Derry said online shopping can make people feel like they get deals year-round as opposed to just a single day.

Online shopping at Northern Roots Boutique has picked up, especially since the pandemic. Derry said people from other states have found her store from the advertising and the partnership with the Destination Liverpool Shops program. While the number of online sales has picked up for her boutique, Derry said she does miss seeing more in-store shoppers.

“Just the one-on-one customer service is kind of being lost and you find that in even trying to hire employees,” Derry said.

National trends aside, signs point to a potential strong weekend for local retailers. For example, the potential for Canadian tourists shopping in Grand Forks is climbing again after border restrictions were loosened for travelers going both directions in the past 12 months. In September, the number of cars crossing the Pembina Border into North Dakota was 15,795. That's still below 2019 numbers — when some 21,000 passenger cars crossed — but it's almost three times more than September 2021.

Flynn said he thinks many will shop on Black Friday this year as people view it as a back-to-normal activity after the pandemic.

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“I think the novelty aspect is another thing that’s there,” Flynn said.

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The availability of stores, both big-box retailers and local businesses, in Grand Forks is still a draw on Black Friday. Barry Wilfahrt, president/CEO of the Grand Forks/East Grand Forks Chamber, said the number of storefronts in Grand Forks has remained the same over the years, even with Columbia Mall having closed several stores.

“So I think from a shopping perspective, it's different in terms of the shopping experience because it isn’t the mall per se, but we still have as many storefronts as we’ve ever had,” Wilfahrt said. “And really, I think there’s actually even more variety now because the small shops, in order to be successful they’ve got to look for those niche merchandise markets, and offer something different than you can buy in your big-box store.”

Sonia Roberton, the owner of The Lighting Gallery, said she does see more people choosing to shop local.

“What we’re hearing, a lot of people are ready to shop local again,” said Roberton, who recently moved The Lighting Gallery into a new location in south Grand Forks. “I think they want the brick-and-mortar (experience) and I think they’re seeing that in Grand Forks with the influx of businesses that are expanding, moving and coming to town.”

Related Topics: CITY OF GRAND FORKS
Meghan Arbegast grew up in Security-Widefield, Colorado. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from North Dakota State University in Fargo, in 2021.

Arbegast wrote for The Spectrum, NDSU's student newspaper, for three years and was Head News Editor for two years. She was an intern with University Relations her last two semesters of college.

Arbegast covers news pertaining to the city of Grand Forks/East Grand Forks including city hall coverage.

Readers can reach Arbegast at 701-780-1267 or MArbegast@gfherald.com.

Pronouns: She/Her
Languages: English
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