CALGARY -- It's normally one of the busiest shopping days of the year, but Black Friday sales are looking a little different in the midst of a global pandemic. 

Starting Friday, Alberta retailers must now follow 25 per cent capacity restrictions, which prompted some adjustments for staff at local shopping malls to abide by the rules. 

Darren Milne, general manager of CF Market Mall, says his shopping centre typically sees upwards of 65,000 people on Black Friday. 

Fewer shoppers were expected this year, but the mall says it was still prepared for a rush.  

"We’re going to see more lineups in the common areas, but we’ve designated several holding areas and placed several stickers on the ground to manage lines and keep people two metres apart," said Milne.

"We’ve also brought on extra security and have a new ambassador program so you’ll have people in the mall directing customers to where they need to go, but also mankind sure they’re keeping space."

Wearing masks inside shopping malls is mandatory in Calgary and stores are expected to follow the new guidelines by wiping down cash registers and providing hand sanitizer at entrances. 

Milne says his retailers have gone above and beyond the requirements and the mall has actually seen an uptick in sales this week as customers anticipated the new restrictions to take effect. 

"Instead of door crashes, many shops have been offering bargains all week long," he said. 

"I think retailers are really concerned about bringing in too many people into stores at once so their strategy has been to do sales the entire week either the idea that they want to spread their traffic out."

CF Market Mall and CF Chinook Centre extended their hours of operation Friday.

Supporting Local 

Black Friday also marks a very important day for Alberta’s small businesses as many continue to struggle to pay their rent or staff members due to the pandemic. 

According to a recent survey from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), about 45 per cent of Alberta small businesses are, on average, losing money each day they remain open.  

Annie Dormuth, director of CFIB Alberta, says about 32,000 small businesses in the province — about 16 per cent of all small retailers —  are at risk of closing. 

"Keep in mind that Alberta small businesses make up the greatest number of small businesses in the entire province, they employ the most Albertans and these are local community leaders," said Dormuth. 

"Now more than ever is it important to shop local to ensure these businesses have a chance of surviving through to 2021."

The CFIB adds that two-out-of-five small retailers typically see fewer customers on Black Friday. 

The organization has launched a new 'Small Business Saturday' campaign in partnership with American Express to encourage Albertans to shop local between Nov. 27 and 30. 

Dormuth notes that many mom and pop shops have adapted to new online platforms in response to the decrease of in-person shoppers. 

"More and more of them have shifted their sales to social media with more promotions on there and they’ve updated their websites to make their stores more online friendly," she said. 

"These businesses are working very diligently to have those types of platforms in place and working to do that curb side pickup or pickup delivery."

As customers shy away from brick-and-mortar stores, the latest Moneris survey found 70 per cent of Canadians plan to do their holiday shopping online, while a separate report from RCC and Leger forecasts a 14-per-cent jump in online spending compared to the 2019 holiday season.