November 23, 2012

Freeport shops chugging along with push from the Downeaster

The inaugural Moonlight Madness train brings shoppers and well-wishers to Freeport in the wee hours of Black Friday.

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

FREEPORT — Downtown Freeport seemed almost serious late Friday morning compared with the Thursday night festivities that brought Santa and shoppers in on the Amtrak Downeaster.

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Joanne Weston of Dixfield purchases a jacket Friday at North Face in Freeport. Many of the Freeport stores opened at midnight on Friday with sales that brought a steady flow of customers.

Derek Davis / Staff Photographer

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Shoppers roam through the LL Bean campus on Friday after many of the stores in Freeport opened for business at midnight.

Derek Davis / Staff Photographer

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Lines moved quickly in stores and shoppers were focused on grabbing the best prices.

"Prices are definitely more in our heads this year," said Rachel Merrill of Portland, who attends the University of Southern Maine. "The economy definitely plays a role. But I'm also graduating soon and probably should be focused on getting a job and saving money."

Mary Ann Macdonald of Kennebunkport said she would be "a little more conservative with the kids' presents, now that they're getting older."

Still, coming out on Black Friday is a fun tradition.

"It gets you in the mood for Christmas," Macdonald said.

Friday's warm temperatures and sunny skies made conditions great for wandering around Freeport, shoppers said.

"It's a gorgeous day to do lots of shopping," said Sue Ornellas of North Berwick.

Ornellas and her friend Debbie Derochemont said they planned to spend about the same amount as they did last year. Sale prices were about what they expected, but crowds were smaller.

Freeport's Black Friday festivities began late Thursday night, when a throng of well-wishers bearing hot coffee, gourmet cupcakes and coupons for savings at stores in town greeted the Downeaster's inaugural Moonlight Madness train.

John and Debbie Holtz of New Jersey and their two daughters were among the passengers who stepped off the train right into a Christmas village.

Santa Claus gave a hearty ho-ho-ho, then sped off on his motorcycle to lead a midnight fun run. The village was decked out in bright and colorful holiday lights, and the streets were teeming with shoppers ready for a Black Friday spending spree that began at midnight.

The only thing missing was carolers.

"This is amazing," Debbie Holtz said. "My husband read about it and said, 'This looks like fun.' This is by far the craziest thing we've ever done."

The train originated in Boston and made all of its regular stops before arriving in Freeport a few minutes after 11 on Thanksgiving night.

The idea was to bring passengers up from Boston for an overnight of shopping. Most stores in town opened at midnight, and L.L. Bean is always open 24 hours.

The Holtz family planned to return on the first train Friday morning. "If we get tired, L.L. Bean has tents. We'll just sleep in one of their tents," Debbie Holtz joked.

They were vacationing in Ogunquit over Thanksgiving, and read about the train in the paper on Thursday morning. They boarded at Wells and decided to make a night of it.

"It's very spur-of-the-moment," Debbie Holtz said. "We love Maine. We vacation up here all the time. This is just one more fun thing for us to do."

Only a dozen or so passengers disembarked at Freeport before the train went on to its final stop in Brunswick. The crowd that welcomed the visitors outnumbered the visitors themselves.

Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, said the success of the shopping train should be judged in years ahead, not on the first try.

Working with the Freeport Merchants Association, the rail authority hopes to build the event so it attracts people from across the region.

The Downeaster started serving Freeport on Nov. 1.

The Moonlight Madness train did create a buzz in town. The Freeport Merchants Association handed out coffee and sweets, and stores sent employees to the train station to hand out coupons.

Shoppers who arrived in town by more traditional means gathered at the depot to join the fun.

Jim Demetropoulos, owner of Island Treasure Toys in Freeport and Yarmouth, loves the idea of a shopping train. Back in the day, when passenger rail service was previously available in Freeport, he took the train with his mother to visit his grandmother.

"The train is different. The station is different. But the memories are the same," said Demetropoulos, who waited with stacks of coupons to his Freeport store, where the biggest selling toys have been Spy Gear toys and accessories, as well as play tents.

"A lot of merchants think this will be a big thing. It may take a couple of years to get into the full swing. But hopefully it will take off," he said.

Chris Cummings, manager of Mexicali Blues, agreed.

"I believe that the ability of people to ride the train and come into town certainly helps," Cummings said. "We opened just before midnight -- there were a lot of people on the street and there was plenty of excitement.

"Our midnight business seems to be growing, but the extra promotions seemed to help," he said.

Another Freeport store, Sea Bags, opened from midnight until 4 a.m and then reopened at 8 a.m.

"There was a line out the store last night," said Sea Bags employee Rob McCarthy.

The store's best seller was its "anchor tote," he said.

Freeport's promotional festivities looked pretty appealing from a shopper's perspective, too.

"I think it's unbelievable what they're doing," said Kathy Parker of Durham.

She was driving home from a holiday in New Hampshire and decided to stop in Freeport "to see what's happening. It's wonderful that Freeport has a lot of attractions that even the locals can enjoy. I'm just amazed with this town."

Shilo Mathieu and her friend Amanda Leclerc drove over from Greene. They're veteran Black Friday shoppers.

"We usually go to Walmart and those places, but we wanted something different this year," Mathieu said. "We've moved on from electronics. We're looking for clothes for our teenage daughters."

"We want to see Santa and get some coupons," said Leclerc.

They scored on both counts. Santa Claus arrived on time, and merchants showered them with savings.

"It's a great way to get in the holiday spirit," Leclerc said.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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Additional Photos

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Shoppers pass by a store window on Main Street early Friday morning in Freeport.

Derek Davis / Staff Photographer


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