SOUTH PORTLAND – Thousands of Mainers jammed into shopping malls and big-box stores, drawn by Black Friday sales.

But several retailers at the Maine Mall opened at midnight, kicking off the shopping frenzy on Thanksgiving Day.

Or should we now call it “Black Friday Eve”?

At Best Buy at the Maine Mall, the line Thursday began forming at 9:30 a.m. By midnight, when the store opened, the number of deal-hungry shoppers was estimated at 1,500, and the line stretched partway around the mall, some 500 feet, all the way to the entrance of the automotive department at Sears.

Patrick Cheung, 28, an engineer visiting Maine from Hong Kong for a training program, laughed when he saw the crowd of about 600 people at Best Buy at 9:30 p.m. Thursday.

Big lines are common in Asia because of the scarcity of some consumer goods, he explained. But the Chinese assume that there are no lines in the United States because this is the land of plenty.

But not for Black Friday doorbusters.

Best Buy sold off its entire stock of 42-inch Sharp LCD TVs before the store even opened its doors at midnight. To keep order among those clamoring for the TVs, which sold for $199.99, Best Buy workers handed out tickets to people waiting in line.

The long lines reminded Cheung of shopping in China.

“It is quite funny to find the same thing in America,” he said.

At the Maine Mall, Friday is typically the biggest shopping day of the year, outside of the final week before Christmas. But at Best Buy and some other big-box stores, Friday is typically the biggest sales day of the year.

It was also a marathon day for mall workers.

Shawn Harris, a sales manager at Best Buy, began working at midnight and was still on his feet at 11 a.m. Friday, having consumed five or six cans of Red Bull, an energy drink with the same caffeine punch per serving as a cup of coffee.

He said the crowd this year was more cheerful than in past years. This is the first year Best Buy has opened at midnight at the Maine Mall, and he figures that people are in a better mood when they arrive at midnight rather than 5 a.m.

“I feel a good vibe, a good energy this year,” he said. “Everyone is in a good mood.”

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, typically sets the tone for shopping throughout the holiday season. This year, retailers were eager to get a jump-start on the day with earlier-than-ever openings.

Among the stores at the mall opening at midnight were Macy’s, Victoria’s Secret, Olympia Sports, Old Navy, American Eagle, Abercrombie & Fitch and Aeropostale. Several stores opened at 4 a.m., including Sears and JC Penney.

The mall opened at 5 a.m.

Kiam Hajizadeh of Falmouth began the day shortly before 6 a.m., shopping with his wife at several stores in Falmouth. They then returned home, unloaded their purchases, including a $700 laptop computer from Staples, and dragged their two children out of bed and headed to the Maine Mall to hunt down more deals.

By 11:30 a.m., Hajizadeh appeared mentally and physically exhausted while collapsed on a mall bench and waiting for the rest of his family, who were shopping at Sephora, a beauty store.

“I still have a long way to go,” he said with a weary sigh.

Black Friday is not just about over-the-top consumerism. It’s also about stretching limited dollars. Theresa Grover, 38, of Sebago has been waiting for weeks for Black Friday so she could get some necessary household items at cut-rate prices.

“Money is so tight. This is what’s happening,” she explained as she left Macy’s lugging bags filled with household stuff, like blankets and pillows.

The Black Friday frenzy in some parts of the country turned ugly this year.

At a Los Angeles Walmart, for example, a super-competitive woman shopper pepper-sprayed a crowd to keep them away from some discounted electronics merchandise.

Cooler heads prevailed at the Maine Mall, where the crowd was well-behaved, reports Craig Gorris, the mall’s senior general manager. Although it was too early for statistics, the stores appeared to be filled with shoppers, he said.

“I’m very happy. The crowds are fantastic,” he said.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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