CLEARWATER, Fla. — The pandemic may have kept some of the crowds away from shopping centers this Black Friday, but that didn’t stop police from stepping up efforts to keep you safe while you shop.
At Westfield Countryside Mall in Clearwater, what’s normally the busiest shopping day of the year looked different this year than in years past.
For one thing, there were some empty parking spaces.
By high noon, Julie Peluso had filled her car with Black Friday bargains.
But due to the pandemic, she was hours later than usual getting started.
“Usually we get up at like 4 a.m. and get in line with everybody else and we look forward to this. That’s been something we’ve done traditionally for years and years. So this year, we didn’t have that,” Peluso said.
The only line at the mall was in front of an urgent care clinic, where dozens of people waited for COVID-19 tests.
“I am actually shocked. It doesn’t seem like there are many people out. Usually this parking lot is completely full,” said Jessica Olenik, who says she’s a regular shopper at the mall.
She says she plans to do most of her shopping online this year.
Holiday sales have been going on at some online sites for weeks already.
“They miss it. They miss the real thrill of Black Friday,” said Peluso.
Even with smaller crowds at brick and mortar stores, police are out in force. They are using a lift in the parking lot, undercover officers and bike patrols to spot criminals and keep shoppers safe.
“Statistically if there’s less people, you’d think there’s potentially less crime. But we’re not looking at it from that standpoint,” said Clearwater Police Lt. Mike Ogliaruso.
Clearwater police had less traffic congestion this Black Friday, as fewer people were venturing out.
Police shared the following holiday shopping safety tips:
- Shop with others instead of shopping alone.
- Park in a well-lit area if you are shopping at night.
- Have your car keys in your hand as you approach your vehicle.
- Don't have your arms overloaded with packages that decrease your field of vision as you walk to your car
- Don't be distracted on your cell phone as you walk from the store to your car.
- Never store packages or other valuables in plain view inside your car. The trunk is your best option.
- If you see something suspicious, say something. Call the Clearwater Police non-emergency line at 727-562-4242 to report anything suspicious.