Hawkeye home football games always draw a big crowd to the Iowa City-Coralville area, as does Black Friday, with the Coral Ridge Mall and surrounding stores attracting shoppers from across the state.
As both events collide this week for Iowa’s first ever post-Thanksgiving matchup against new conference rival Nebraska in Kinnick Stadium, businesses, shoppers and community leaders are bracing for the unknown.
“It’s always been a busy day any way because most people plan to shop or take the day off to shop,” said Laurie Haman, vice president for the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “By adding the extra fans … it’s going to be extremely busy.”
Earlier this week, Haman said, there were still a few hotel rooms available in the area for Thursday night, but Friday through the weekend was booked.
“There are a lot of people coming to town,” Haman said. “That definitely has a major impact on business.”
Although the convergence of both crows is expected to be good for business, Haman said, it will add to the congestion and traffic around town. And some retailers wonder whether the 11 a.m. Hawkeye game will detract from the long-standing shopping holiday or drive even bigger crowds to the early morning, evening or Thursday night shopping times.
Some fans were Tweeting earlier this week about the choice they’re planning to make.”You’re not a real Hawkeye if you’re not tailgating on Black Friday,” one person wrote.
Some local businesses have stretched their Black Friday specials just to make sure Hawkeye fans can both catch the game and snag the deals.
Haman said the move this year to begin “Black Friday” as early as Thursday in some stores should benefit local retailers worried about losing shoppers to the game.
“I think that helps distribute it a bit more,” she said.
Haman said one reason she thinks this year’s Black Friday crowd could be even bigger than normal is that some groups coming for the game – like those coming in from Nebraska – might include both prospective shoppers and Hawkeye-Cornhusker ticket holders.
“We see that a lot where, on home games, men attend the games and women shop,” Haman said. “They come to divide and conquer.”
At the Coral Ridge Target, manager Sarisa Placzek said the staff is hopeful for one of the busiest Black Fridays yet with the extra football traffic in town.
“Game days are really busy for us because there are people coming from different parts of Iowa before and after the game,” she said. “So we think it could have a positive impact.”
Management at the Coralville Target, which kicks off its Black Friday sales at 9 p.m. Thursday, has considered the extra challenges this year could pose. But, Placzek said, it’s hard to know how to prepare for the unknown.
“It will be a new day for us and a new set of circumstances – we’re excited,” she said, adding that they plan to take notes for the next time Iowa hosts a game on Black Friday. “It will be interesting.”
In downtown Iowa City, Active Endeavors manager Dave Nerad said he’s hopeful the Iowa-Nebraska matchup will bring more Black Friday shoppers his way in post-game revelers.
“We really see an increase in traffic whenever there is a home game,” Nerad said. “We are always seeing people sending other family members to the game while they go shopping.”
There is typically a dip in traffic during the game, which is why Active Endeavors is extending its holiday shopping hours this weekend, he said. It’s opening an hour earlier on Friday and Saturday at 9 a.m. instead of 10 a.m.
“We did that because of the game, to give people more chances to get it done,” he said. “It’s one of our probably top five business days of the year.”
Down the street, at Catherine’s Boutique, the focus is more on “Small Business Saturday” than Black Friday. But, owner Catherine Champion said, she’s hopeful the game will boost Friday shopping.
“It could be unbelievable and bring more people downtown,” she said. “But we don’t know because we’ve never had it before.”