Some came for 55-inch TVs. Some came for the camaraderie, others for the reassuring hum of electricity and its promise of heat.

No matter the motivation, thousands of shoppers hit retail hot spots in southern Maine on Black Friday, the nation’s busiest shopping day.

“I find customers really happy today,” said Tina MacWhinnie, an employee at Corningware Corelle & More in Freeport. She attributed the mood to a Thanksgiving eve snowstorm that made for a holiday landscape, even though it knocked out power to thousands of homes. “Spirits are better than they have been in previous Black Fridays.”

Retailers hope revenues will be better, too.

For the full holiday season, the National Retail Federation forecasts an increase of 4.1 percent to $616 billion – the biggest jump since 2011. Roughly $50 billion of that is expected from Thanksgiving through this weekend.

GETTING AN EARLY START

More than 300 shoppers were lined up outside Best Buy in South Portland when its annual Black Friday sale commenced at 12:01 a.m. At the front of the line was a chilled Ali Sami of Westbrook, who had arrived at 2 p.m. Thursday to get his hands on one of a limited number of heavily discounted 55-inch Samsung HDTVs.

Best Buy patrons weren’t alone. Minutes after the Maine Mall in South Portland opened at 12:01 a.m., it was jammed with people, most of them teenagers and young adults.

Brendan Fontaine of Auburn said it appeared that most of them were there to socialize, not shop.

“This is a social experiment, that’s what this is,” he said.

He and Frank Perry of Auburn sat and drank coffee in the mall while their kids ran around. “Every kid from every high school is here,” Fontaine said.

Kora Kidd, 21, of Westbrook said she, too, was there primarily to window-shop and socialize with her friends.

Kidd said visiting the mall on Black Friday is a great way to meet new people.

“You also run into people that you haven’t seen in a very long time,” she said.

Kidd and the Auburn teens are examples of a coveted demographic. Retailers hope to encourage in-store shopping by younger people by creating a more vibrant environment and events to lure the next big wave of consumers, millennials, defined as 18-to-34-year-olds.

Defying the conventional wisdom that young people shop only online, a study by the National Retail Federation showed that 43 percent of millennials shopped in brick-and-mortar stores over the 2013 Thanksgiving weekend – up from 36 percent in 2012.

And in its 2014 annual report, the International Council of Shopping Centers advised its more than 60,000 members that the role of the shopping center is expanding to become “the place people go to when they are not at home and not at work.”

“In other words, we have entered a period where economic value flows increasingly from the social value (of going to the store) and not just from merchandising,” the report said.

On Black Friday, there were plenty of practitioners.

At 2 a.m. in Freeport, Casey Maynard of Westbrook walked out of Old Navy with one of her sisters and two large bags of clothing.

Maynard said Black Friday is a special day because her sisters, who live in Aroostook County, always make the long drive down to southern Maine so they can all spend time together.

“It’s become a tradition for my sisters and I,” she said. “We will probably go to Wal-Mart, just because it’s Wal-Mart, and probably (the Maine) Mall – anywhere there’s a store.”

Also in Freeport, the Jeffrey family browsed in some of the stores in the Village Station. They live in Brewster, New York, but spending Black Fridays in Freeport has become a ritual.

“We’ve been up here three years (in a row) now, and my daughter lives in New Hampshire, so it’s become a kind of a tradition. We love it up here,” said Scott Jeffrey.

Miryam Strautkalns also joined in the retail revelry in Freeport.

“I’m visiting from San Francisco, and my fiance’s sister and friends come shopping on Black Friday,” she said. “They tend to be here at 5 in the morning, and I decided, why not?”

Temptation was everywhere.

At clothing stores, discounts were steep, with Old Navy offering up to half off everything. Best Buy offered $100 off some iPads, and on the TV Sami coveted – $500 off its regular $1,400 price. Target slashed prices on TVs and gaming consoles.

ROBUST SEASON EXPECTED

The sidewalks of Portland’s Old Port district were crowded with shoppers Friday afternoon as flurries added to the holiday atmosphere. With temperatures in the low 30s and intermittent sun, the conditions were decidedly more shopper-friendly than those that greeted people who ventured out before dawn.

The Salt Cellar on Middle Street bustled as shoppers sampled the flavored “finishing salts” and inspected salt slabs and hunks of pinkish-orange Himalayan salt illuminated from inside.

Manager Randall Chubbuck was not only happy with Friday’s foot traffic, but with business overall for the year, saying the store has been “straight out” since March in a possible indication of a recovering economy. Cruise ship passengers were a more visible part of business this year as well, he said.

Retail analysts are predicting a robust holiday shopping season. Lower unemployment rates, rising consumer confidence and lower-than-expected costs for gas and oil are factors contributing to increased sales expected this year.

Those results are expected to come from a prolonged holiday shopping season, rather than one gargantuan shopping day. Since 2005, Black Friday has held the crown for the top sales day of the year, according to ShopperTrak, which tracks data at 70,000 stores globally.

That could change this year. The earlier openings on Thanksgiving are eating into Black Friday sales. And as a result, the last Saturday before Christmas may edge out Black Friday.

Locally, there are other expectations. The Salt Cellar’s Black Friday sales have grown year over year, but Chubbuck was anticipating that the next day would be the big kickoff of the holiday sales season.

“Tomorrow being Small Business Saturday, that is what we are looking forward to,” Chubbuck said, between ringing up sales.

Just down Exchange Street, in Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine shop, Marie Stewart Harmon was also pleased to see the steady flow of shoppers on Friday but was looking ahead to Small Business Saturday.

“If it’s anything like the past few years, tomorrow will be much more exciting than today,” Stewart Harmon said as shoppers browsed the artwork, housewares and assorted knickknacks made by Maine craftsmen.”Every year, I do feel more and more people are trying to buy local.”

Back at the Maine Mall, Fontaine, the father who accompanied his kids, may try a different tack next year. He said he usually doesn’t accompany his kids to midnight mall openings on Black Friday, but he had been in pursuit of an advertised sale on an HDTV that turned out to be more elusive than he had hoped.

There was some kind of special ticket you needed to get one. Fontaine had not been aware of that requirement.

“The only reason I came here was to get a deal that was too good to be true,” he said. “It turns out it was too good to be true.”

Staff Photographer Whitney Hayward and The Associated Press contributed to this report.