SOUTH PORTLAND — Mobs of shoppers rushed into JC Penney as the retailer opened its doors 15 minutes early, while the rest of the Maine Mall bustled with bag-ladened shoppers hunting for the best deals.

“This is not for the newbie shopper. Only veterans,” said Cat Bibeau of South Portland, who started her shopping at midnight at Wal-Mart and arrived at JC Penney as it opened just before 6 a.m. “I’ve been doing this for 15 years – every Black Friday.”

Bibeau said the secret was to have a list and work around the clock, hitting stores as they opened. Also, she advised others to dress comfortably and wear a backpack so your hands are free to carry bags and shop.

“I’m going to be more careful this year. It has to be something I really need to get. Before I would get whatever, but now I’m more selective,” Bibeau said.

The National Retail Federation expects holiday sales to rise 4.1 percent this year, less than last year’s growth of 5.6 percent. Black Friday kicks off the official holiday shopping season, when retailers make more than 30 percent of their annual sales.

Many shoppers at the Maine Mall said they planned to spend about the same or less than last year as they kept a more careful eye on promotions and pared their shopping lists

Erika Jordan of Parsonsfield shopped as a team with friends and family. They had a game plan: some hit the shoe department, while Jordan and others piled up with pillows and housewares.

“We got to go to the car and unload and come back in,” Jordan laughed.

Catherine Stevenson of Bath said she never went to bed so she could begin shopping at midnight. The best deals she saw were jewelry at Sears, and Abercrombie & Fitch’s 50-percent off sale on the entire store.

The scene at the Maine Mall was orderly, though lines snaked through JC Penney about 30-people long by 7:15 a.m.

Linda Esman of Litchfield came armed with a list and hunted for a waffle maker, griddle and toaster oven. She got up at 3:40 a.m. to get to JC Penney when it opened.

While many consumers hoped to start and finish all of their holiday shopping on Friday, others hit the stores looking for bargains for themselves. Bradley Snow of Oxford and Caleb Carter of Portland hunted through the piles of clothes, looking for bright-colored jeans.

At midnight, Best Buy had hundreds of shoppers, after many customers had already arrived at the store as early at 11:30 a.m. to be the first in line. An off-duty South Portland police officer was watching over the line forming outside Best Buy before its midnight opening, said South Portland police Lt. Todd Bernard.

The store opened after the manager gave a pep talk and workers cheered “Go Store 531!”

By 2 a.m., the line still lingered outside as the store kept control of how many shoppers were allowed inside at once.

While stores around the country opened as early as 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, retailers in Maine had to wait until midnight. Stores larger than 5,000 square feet cannot open on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, with the exception of Maine icon L.L. Bean, which keeps its store open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.