Editor's Note: A previous version of this story did not specify that the 20% online sale at Poor Richard's was only available to customers who had a special code from listening to iHeartRadio.

The November weather ushered in the holiday spirit Friday as a thin layer of snow hugged the ground, but the frozen parking lots of Walmart, Kohl's and Best Buy were much emptier this Black Friday than previous years.

Climbing coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have limited retail stores in El Paso County to 50% capacity as part of the state's efforts to rein in the spread of the virus. Some stores and restaurants across the region, state and country have shuttered permanently because of the economic fallout from the pandemic.

And with the holiday season here, shoppers were opting to stay safe by looking for online deals this Black Friday, local business owners said.

"We're hopeful for a good Christmas," said Richard Skorman, co-owner of Poor Richard's restaurant, book, gift and toy store in downtown Colorado Springs.

Book and gift shop sales have dropped 50% compared to previous years, especially because the store is geared toward foot traffic of tourists, downtown shoppers and Colorado College students. But that did not stop Skorman — a Colorado Springs city councilman — and his wife, Patricia Seator, from adapting their shop to sell online.

With the help of their employees, Skorman and Seator listed their book, gift and toy inventory online. They also tried to encourage customers to shop electronically by providing a 20% discount for some customers who had a special code from listening to iHeartRadio. Since then, Skorman said online sales have started to help boost the business.

"We’re really hopeful for that, even though we have been a brick and mortar store," he said.

A study conducted by Travis Credit Union found 71% of respondents say they changed how they plan to shop with 95% planning to shop mostly or entirely online — a shift from the 76% of people who did so last year. COVID-19-related health concerns were cited by 45% of respondents as motivation to shop online and a fear of crowds was a driver for 24% of respondents.

Conscious Living Shop owner Lilla McPhearson, who sells home and body products in Old Colorado City, said she benefits from online marketing just as much as online sales.

"I realized the importance of a social media presence," McPherson said. "A lot of customers find us there."

McPherson hoped her Black Friday and Small Businesses Saturday sale, promoted online, would bring shoppers into the store.

"We cater to locals and repeat business," McPhearson said.

The Gazette asked readers how they planned to shop for Black Friday.

"Staying home," Facebook user Cindy Headrick-Heer commented. "Ordering items from small businesses through internet shopping."

Some stores have not felt the COVID-19 pinch as much as others. Jason Baalman, manager of the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in Old Colorado City, said his store enjoyed a steady flow of customers Friday.

“Sales have been pretty good today,” said Baalman, who has worked at the store for more than 20 years.

Baalman noted that the chocolate factory has not been immune to the financial impact of the coronavirus. Two of the store’s four locations have closed since the virus’ initial surge in the spring.

However, Baalman said, the two remaining stores have seen an increase in sales since the pandemic began.

“Chocolate is a pretty good stress reliever,” he said.

Gazette reporter O'Dell Isaac contributed to this story.

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