In past years, the lines started forming before midnight. Rhode Island law prevents most stores from opening on Thanksgiving day, so big-box stores — like Walmart and Target — would open at 12 o’clock sharp.

This year, Black Friday isn’t so much a day as a whole month. Many stores began offering discounts in early November to try to avoid a rush of shoppers this Friday, November 27th. 

Diane McCrohan, an associate professor of Marketing at Johnson & Wales University, said she still expects some shoppers to shop in person on Friday — whether out of habit or necessity.

“It will definitely be harder for lower-income families [to adapt],” she said.

Low-income workers have been disproportionately harmed by the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, so holiday budgets are even tighter this year. Many families do not have the flexibility to look for discounts on other days or reliable internet to shop from home, McCrohan said.

“So that limits their ability to get all of these different deals, or watch different deals as they come through online,” she said. “So they’re really going to be set on what the actual brick-and-mortar retailer is doing, because they will have to shop in person.”

Big-box stores like Walmart and Kohl’s can expect a roughly five percent increase in revenue from holiday sales this year, McCrohan said — which will help these chains make up for their lower sales last spring. But it’s harder to predict how smaller retailers will fare this holiday season.

“The problem is — for some of the smaller stores that are in trouble, this could be a great boost to them, or it could be a bust. It really depends if the consumer goes to the local stores in their different towns,” McCrohan said.

In anticipation of Black Friday, Governor Gina Raimondo has repeatedly asked Rhode Islanders to consider patronizing Rhode Island businesses — instead of defaulting to Amazon for their holiday needs. The state also helped launch a website aimed at connecting online shoppers with local small businesses.

“Consumers really need to support their local business if they want them here after we get through this pandemic,” said Erin Donovan-Boyle, the executive director of the Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce. “When they do want to stroll down Main Street again, we want the businesses to be there for them.”

Donovan-Boyle said the push to shop local this Black Friday is especially important for businesses that typically rely on the summer season, since COVID-related travel restrictions dampered Rhode Island’s tourism industry this year. 

Rhode Island will begin a two-week “pause” on November 30 to reduce overall mobility and control the spread of COVID-19. During this period, restaurants will operate at reduced indoor capacity. Retail stores will remain open, but the governor has advised shoppers to buy online when possible.

Laurie White, the president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, said the restrictions will pose a particular challenge to businesses that typically rely on foot-traffic — or those that don’t have a robust online presence.

“It’s a difficult mix for all involved. Folks that run restaurants. Folks that run stores. And also shoppers that may or may not have the appetite for putting themselves in a place where they feel that they could endanger their family. They’re all very real concerns,” White said.

When Raimondo announced the pause on November 19, she said she would have preferred to implement the restrictions immediately, but negotiated with Rhode Island’s restaurant and business owners to wait until after Thanksgiving week.

“If I had a magic wand and I could shut everything down immediately, I would do that. [But] I have to be somewhat practical,” she said. “It was a compromise. It’s not perfect.”

Antonia Ayres-Brown can be reached at