As first-time visitors to Merry Madness discovered — it really was both festive and crazy.

More than 850 people started a night of shopping and revelry at the Portland Regency Hotel, with the line of people at the door wrapping around Market Street to Fore Street and up Silver Street.

The cocktail hour at the Regency was spontaneously extended for a second hour to accommodate the crowd, with all 850 commemorative pre-poured wine glasses being sold.

“I couldn’t believe how many people were there, but people were in good spirits,” observed Lisa Foster of Cumberland, who wore battery-operated tree lights. “It’s a great way to kick the holidays into high gear. I don’t often get to a lot of the stores, but they are really unique.”

The idea behind Merry Madness is to draw crowds downtown for a night of shopping the Old Port.

“We’ve had groups of people come here from other parts of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and even Canada,” said Will Etheridge, events and marketing manager for Portland’s Downtown District. “People make it an annual tradition. A cool thing about downtown is there is so much that is unique to the area.”

“We’re going to be doing the whole town,” said Jeffrey Malloy of Gorham, wearing a red cowboy hat he found at iParty. “I got turned on to this about three years ago, and we come every year.”

Wendy Farr of Cumberland and Lisa Godin of Easthampton, Mass., best friends since childhood, braved the crowds like they do every year for Merry Madness.

“She left work to come up here,” Farr said.

“And drink wine with my friend,” Godin said.

“Shop, drink, and repeat,” Farr laughed.

“In that order!” Godin added.

Outside the Regency, special one-night-only outdoor lighting by Event Metrix and music helped set the mood. More than 70 stores participated in the event, inviting shoppers to carry their Merry Madness glasses for refills of various alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Some participants even wore lanyard wine glass carriers around their necks.

“It was so wonderful to see the Old Port so alive and festive,” said Janet Thurston of Raymond. “We had anywhere from four to 10 friends together last night going in and out of different shops, losing each other, then finding each other again via cell phone or just happenstance. It was a great night of talking, enjoying wine and snacks in a multitude of shops that we’d never been in before, giggling in Nomia — and just totally enjoying the celebratory atmosphere of the holiday season.”

“We do this every year,” said East End resident Kathy White, who has a commemorative glass from every year. “Our friends Joan and Steve Newton come up from South Berwick and do all their Christmas shopping – and we hold their bags.”

The Regency was pleased with the turnout, which included 20 guest rooms booked by Merry Madness participants.

“A lot of people walk by or drive by,” said David Davis, director of sales. But Merry Madness got them in the doors in droves. “It increased our exposure in the city and was a feel-good event.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer from Scarborough. She can be contacted at:

amyedits@aol.com