Holiday shopping around the Tri-Valley looks much different this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The traditions of long lines at shopping centers with families waiting to meet Santa Claus or retailers packed wall-to-wall with customers buying gifts for their loved ones are transitioning to curbside pickups and health-conscious experiences.
City Center Bishop Ranch in San Ramon, owned and operated by Sunset Development Company, is offering a socially distant experience where children will be able to see Santa via livestream on a screen that will be located in Alexander Square, according to vice president and general manager Charles Martinez.
"The square will be festively decorated and arranged to ensure proper social distancing," he said. "Children will be able to chat with Santa and drop off letters to him in a special North Pole mailbox. We're using technology to eliminate physical interactions while still providing a really fun family holiday experience."
While a Christmas tree lighting celebration will not be taking place this year, lighted tree forests and holiday decor will be displayed throughout City Center now through Jan. 2.
"A total of 11 Christmas trees -- ranging from 8 feet to 12 feet high -- will be arranged throughout three 'Christmas Tree Forests' located in various areas of the center," Martinez said.
"This arrangement will enable guests to enjoy beautiful decorations without having large crowds gather around one Christmas tree," he continued, adding that guests will be required to wear masks at all times and signage reminding people to practice safe social distancing will be in place.
Martinez also noted that this year's City Center holiday activities were designed to be ongoing to allow people the flexibility to visit at their leisure in an effort to avoid large gatherings on specific dates and times.
For in-person shopping, City Center retailers will continue to follow the strategies they adopted upon reopening earlier this year, including limiting the number of customers allowed inside, requiring shoppers and employees to wear masks and encouraging social distancing, Martinez said.
Stoneridge Shopping Center in Pleasanton and the San Francisco Premium Outlets in Livermore, both owned and operated by Simon Property Group, will also be open for in-person Black Friday shopping with modified hours. Both centers will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Black Friday and resume their normal weekend hours this Saturday and Sunday.
The option for curbside pickup is available for various retailers at all three locations.
Stoneridge is hosting families for in-person Santa photos this year, but reservation slots and masks at all times by Santa, his helpers and all visitors are among the pandemic-safety protocols in place. Appointments begin this weekend and run through Dec. 24.
As the larger shopping centers in the area focus on getting through Black Friday, local downtowns are gearing up for Small Business Saturday this weekend. In Pleasanton, the downtown association has launched its "Shop Small -- Support Local" campaign in partnership with the city.
The initiative is an extension of Small Business Saturday, a nationwide celebration founded by American Express in 2010.
"With COVID-19 restrictions and the changes from American Express this year, we have reimagined our traditional Small Business Saturday event," organizers said in a statement. "We will still be promoting shopping small on Saturday, Nov. 28; however we are expanding beyond just one day and promoting the importance of shopping small and supporting local all season long."
Participating businesses will be offering monthlong special offers as well as distributing custom Pleasanton tote bags to shoppers with their purchase while supplies last. Commemorative drinking mugs are also being sold online and at Towne Center Books as part of the campaign.
Livermore held its annual "Earlier than the Bird" shopping event downtown last Saturday with COVID-19 compliant strategies in place, including requiring face coverings, promoting social distancing and following the 25% capacity limit inside businesses. They also did not distribute printed lists of participating stores as they've done in the past. Tri-Valley Haven accepted monetary donations by Venmo or credit card during the event instead of gifts for their annual Holiday Program.
While the shopping experiences in Livermore have mostly been able to continue as planned, other holiday events have not, like the cancellation of the city's Holiday Sights and Sounds Parade and Tree Lighting. Instead of the parade, Livermore Downtown, Inc. is encouraging the community to build holiday displays outside their homes and businesses for people to drive by and view from Dec. 1-24.
The town of Danville, in collaboration with the Danville Area Chamber of Commerce, is also encouraging residents to buying from small businesses in town through its new "I Pledge to Support Local" campaign.
Officials call on Danville residents to patronize local businesses -- in-person safely, curbside pickup or online shopping -- and also share about their experiences by posting stories or photos on social media with the hashtag #PledgeDanville.