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Mainers dress in their door-busting best to gorge on Black Friday bargains, in a holiday season where U.S. sales are expected to exceed $718 billion.
Thousands of Mainers braved frigid temperatures to be among the first to take advantage of midnight Black Friday deals at The Maine Mall in South Portland.
Solomon Ben-Ami of Saco shivered in the 10-degree cold as he anxiously awaited the opening of Best Buy just before midnight Thursday. It was his second consecutive year at the front of the line, a feat he achieved by showing up more than 24 hours early, at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
“It’s much colder than last year, I can tell you that,” he said.
Ben-Ami said he took turns with his shopping companion warming up in the car and getting food while they waited for “door buster” deals on flat-screen TVs. Best Buy was offering discounts of up to $170 on ultra-high-definition TVs at the front of the store early Friday.
The day is the historical launch of the holiday shopping season, which analysts believe could be a record-breaker this year. Based on an annual survey of shoppers, the National Retail Federation predicts holiday spending will top $718 billion, an increase of roughly 4 percent over last year. Citing record-low unemployment and strong consumer confidence, plus an abundance of discounts and deals, the federation said the typical shopper will likely spend just over $1,000 on gifts, decorations and food for the holidays.
And while online shopping and experiential gift-giving continue to put a dent in sales at brick-and-mortar stores, the social aspect of retailing with friends and family sustain many Black Friday traditions.
Inside the mall, the crowd was made up primarily of teenagers, as has become the norm in the wee hours of Black Friday. Teenager Dylan Turner, who happens to live in Turner, said he showed up at the mall mostly because it was a prime opportunity for people-watching.
“It’s the best thing to do, honestly,” he said. “I would be (shopping), but money ain’t on my side right now.”
His friend Georgia Brown of Lewiston said she was hoping to get some deals on clothing and “anything I can find that’s cheap.”
Brown said she was planning to check out the clothing store Pink because it usually has good deals on Black Friday, “and I’ve got a lot of coupons.”
Pink appeared to be one of the more popular stores early Friday, along with Best Buy, Macy’s, J.C. Penney, Victoria’s Secret, Game Stop and Bath & Body Works.
FOCUSED ON HAVING FUN
By midmorning, the mall was bustling with families and groups of friends shopping together. Outside of Bath & Body Works, friends Karen Stratis of Windham and Vicki Doughty of Gorham were loaded down with shopping bags as they waited for a friend to come out of the store. The trio has shopped Black Friday sales together for 15 years, but skipped the midnight openings this year.
“It was nice because it was quiet when we got here at 6 a.m.,” Stratis said. “There was no standing in the cold. We had no trouble parking. It was kind of dead.”
Doughty said she and her friends were more focused on having fun than shopping major sales.
“It’s a tradition,” she said.
Black Friday shopping is also a tradition for friends Ginger Throgmorton, Michelle Bartlett and Karen Thompson. They’ve been shopping together since their children were little, but now that they’re grown, the focus has changed.
“Now it’s all about the fun,” Throgmorton said. “This is all about us now.”
The women – who had just scored $20 boots and were working their way down a list of stores to visit – always wear matching shirts while they shop on Black Friday. This year, their “jingle bell” themed T-shirts had their names printed on the back.
Nearby, Leah Hall sat on the floor near the Macy’s entrance waiting for her brother. Hall, who lives in New York but was visiting her parents in Kennebunkport for the holiday, said they shop the sales every year. She was surprised the mall wasn’t busier, but was pleased she had scored some Christmas gifts for other people and a few things for herself. She was headed next to Michael’s to buy some craft supplies to decorate her new apartment.
“Then we’re going home to sleep,” she said.
In addition to the big chain stores, several smaller retailers were set up inside the mall, many in makeshift storefronts out in the middle of its wide corridors.
They included Linda Paquet and Lisa Frazier of Touchstone Crystal jewelry, who said it was their first time working a midnight opening at The Maine Mall.
“It’s just something different to try to get the word out,” Paquet said.
In order to participate in the mall’s midnight opening, retailers were required to remain open for 21 consecutive hours until 9 p.m. Friday, Frazier said. She and Paquet were planning to take turns going home for a few hours of sleep to endure the marathon session.
Shoppers elsewhere in Maine also braved the cold to get Black Friday deals.
Chris Turner of Gardiner was first in line Thursday morning at the Best Buy store on Crossing Way in Augusta. He said he started the line at 7 a.m. equipped with a space heater to keep himself and others warm.
“I’ve already gone through two propane tanks, but I’m trying to keep everybody warm,” he said just before midnight Thursday.
Turner, who has been the first person in line at Best Buy for five years in a row by his count, was in the market for video games and expected to spend $200.
He said he was there for “the discounts you get on games. Usually video games are $59.99, and you can get them for $30 on Black Friday.”
Outside the Kohl’s store in Auburn late Thursday night, Ryan Decker of Jay sat at the front of the line, her face peeking out from her father-in-law’s military sleeping bag rated for 40-below weather. Beside her, Joline Vachon and Shantel Fournier huddled in chairs around a propane heater, the women helping to keep warm by cracking each other up.
“I’m really comfortable, but everyone else is slowly dying,” quipped Decker.
Decker had been in front of Kohl’s since 8:50 p.m. for a sweet deal on comforters and this year came extra prepared, bringing a strap to drag eight of them behind her in the store while she shopped.
“We buy a jacket every year, towels, shoes,” Vachon said.
TOP DAY FOR SMALL BUSINESSES
Retail sales analyst Brad Plothow said Black Friday isn’t just for the big-box retailers. It’s also the single most important sales day of the year for smaller, independently owned businesses in Maine. Plothow is a vice president at Womply, a San Francisco-based software company that caters primarily to small businesses.
Womply analyzed 2017 sales data for its roughly 800 Maine business customers and found that their sales increased by an average of 133 percent on Black Friday, with the average Maine small business raking in about $2,900 in sales versus $1,300 on a typical day. That increase was higher than on any other day of the year, including Small Business Saturday, Plothow said.
“The data that we’re looking at is all small, local, independent businesses,” he said. “We mapped the entire year to find out what percentage of sales come from the holidays. Black Friday is the No. 1 day of the year.”