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Despite concerns about a new coronavirus variant that has already been detected in South Africa, Australia, parts of Europe and Canada, shoppers flocked to malls and stores throughout the weekend, making the most of deals during Black Friday and Small Business Saturday. 

And for the two days, Nov. 26 and 27, and even during Sunday, Nov. 28, optimistic holiday shopping remained at levels not seen in close to two years – much to the delight of restaurants, boutiques, mom-and-pop establishments and major chain stores. 

However, while some businesses found reason to celebrate, reports posted as of Monday indicated that Black Friday shopping at retail stores declined a whopping 28% from pre-pandemic levels in 2019, based on data from Sensormatic Solutions. 

“Traffic was up 47.5% compared with year-ago levels and it’s clear shoppers are shopping earlier this season, just as they did last season,” said Brian Field, senior director of global retail consulting at Sensormatic. 

As for online shopping, retailers rang up $8.9 billion in sales on Black Friday, down from the record of about $9 billion spent on the Friday after Thanksgiving a year earlier, according to data from Adobe Analytics. It marked the first time ever that growth reversed from the prior year, Adobe said. Adobe analyzes more than one trillion visits to U.S. retail sites with over 100 million items in 18 different product categories.

American Dram Shopping Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey, the nation’s newest and largest mall, hoped to entice shoppers by promising gifts valued by as much as $800 for the first 500 shoppers. The mall also included incentives like ice skating with Santa and his elves and a dance party, hoping to cash in on as thousands of people returned to in-person shopping. 

In Newark, local businesses sought to cash in on Small Business Saturday with a wide range of promotions by participating in an initiative first launched by American Express in 2010, the “Shop Small” movement – a year-round effort that encourages people to support small businesses in their communities, particularly during the weekend after Thanksgiving. 

Last year, Americans spent about $20 billion on Small Business Saturday, up slightly from the year before. 

But do Americans believe that small businesses still matter and remain essential to the nation’s economy? 

Consider that a Shop Small Consumer Impact survey conducted by American Express before the pandemic found that 73 percent of people think empty storefronts remain a national issue. In addition, 84 percent agree the increase in empty storefronts and the closings of small, independently-owned businesses negatively affect their local communities.

Small businesses have been pummeled by the pandemic, according to a study conducted by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. 

In New Jersey, small business was down 31 percent in the first full year of the pandemic. 

Retailers and personal care businesses, such as barbers and hair salons, were among the businesses hardest hit by the pandemic but have enjoyed a stronger recovery than other sectors, according to the study. 

Personal care businesses saw their revenue fall by more than half (52 percent) at the beginning of the pandemic but by March 2021 reported revenue 16 percent above pre-pandemic levels. The pandemic’s biggest impact on small business revenue was in April 2020, when revenues fell by 22 percent nationwide, equivalent to $4.6 billion for that month alone. 

Top performers over the past year include home improvement and real estate businesses as the annual revenue of mortgage bankers increased by 30 percent compared with pre-pandemic levels – an average increase of $147,000 per business. 

Some of the hardest-hit small businesses represent the recreation industry including bowling alleys whose annual revenues were down 33 percent by the end of March 2021 – an average drop of more than $250,000 per business. 

Small businesses in high-density urban areas report a greater financial impact from the pandemic than those in smaller communities, particularly along both the East and West coasts in cities from Brooklyn and New York City to San Francisco

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