November 27, 2010

Pulling a mall-nighter

So, what's the big deal? That's exactly what Maine's Black Friday shoppers were asking -- and hunting for -- as they flocked to local retailers.

By J. Hemmerdinger jhemmerdinger@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND - The sleet began at 3:30 a.m. Friday, falling on thousands of shoppers who waited outside stores for the first crack at Black Friday discounts.

click image to enlarge

Christina Reali, right, of Old Orchard Beach makes her way to the checkout line with her aunt, Marianne Reali, during their Black Friday shopping trip to Target in South Portland.

Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

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Despite chilly weather, many shoppers queued up and enjoyed an impromptu camaraderie with their Black Friday brethren.

Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

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"My toes are frozen," said Sandy Grondin, 65, of Yarmouth, in the parking lot of the Target store in South Portland before dawn Friday. She spent all night outside the store to get a good deal on a flat-screen television.

Grondin, cold and weary, with one arm in a sling, was the first customer in a line that stretched three-quarters of the way around the store. She arrived at Target at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

When the doors flung open at 4 a.m. Friday, Grondin was first in. She was also first out, emerging 10 minutes later with a 40-inch TV that she bought for less than $300, hundreds off the regular price.

Many shoppers said deep discounts drew them to such extremes. Others said they came for the excitement and camaraderie.

"We've made all kinds of friends," said Chris Sargent of Portland, who waited in line at Target all night and turned 37 on Friday. During the night, he said, the crowd sang "Happy Birthday" to him.

"It's cold, but fun," he said. "You sit around and laugh -- let the time go by."

"It brings out the Christmas spirit with all the people here. We laughed the whole night through," said Heidi Payne, 46, who drove more than an hour from her home in Hiram to shop with her family.

Payne, who waited outside Target for more than six hours, said her day had just started. After Target, she planned to hit Macy's, Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts, Bed Bath & Beyond, Michael's, and Bath & Body Works.

Payne didn't expect to be home until 1 a.m. Saturday.

"We shop 'til we drop," she said, adding that all her gifts will be wrapped and under the tree by next weekend.

Shoppers described a long, chilly night.

"I'm a little cold. I'm ready to get in," Debra Whitaker said Friday morning.

Whitaker, 55, of Westbrook, had been waiting outside Target since 9 p.m. Thursday. She said she camps out at a different store every Black Friday.

Ashley Rowe, 25, of South Portland was the third person in the line at Target. For most of the night, shoppers sat in folding chairs, she said. But around 3:30 a.m., the crowd started pushing toward the doors.

During the night, some shoppers went on supply runs, bringing back hot drinks and food. A local Chinese restaurant sold $3 egg rolls out of a car. Starbucks, just across the Target lot, was closed.

"Starbucks would have made half a million dollars if they were open," said Sargent.

Shoppers helped each other during the night.

Grondin, for instance, said others held her place in line while she warmed up in the car. Someone even brought her hot chocolate.

"They wouldn't take money," she said. "I didn't want any special favors."

There were odd moments in the wee hours. At one point, a car showed up. Four guys got out and started giving shoppers small pumpkins.

"They just handed us pumpkins," said Sargent. "I don't know (why)."

When Target's doors finally opened, the relieved crowd shuffled calmly inside. Some shoppers beelined for the bathroom.

"Single file. Single file," said an employee.

"Walk faster," someone yelled.

It took 25 minutes for everyone to get out of the cold.

The hottest items at Target were discounted televisions, which were stacked along the main aisle and sold out in minutes.

Marianne Reali, 62, of Old Orchard Beach said her daughter "cased the joint" a few days earlier, noting the location of the TVs. When they got inside Friday, Reali grabbed a cart while her daughter rushed to claim a 40-inch flat-screen.

All that was left was a 46-inch set, which Reali bought for $450.

There was a smaller line Friday morning at Best Buy at the Maine Mall. Because Best Buy opened at 5 a.m., several hundred shoppers endured an extra hour in the elements. "I am all about getting in the door and getting home," said Venu Chaganti, 33, of Scarborough, who was at the front of the line. He was shopping for a $187 Toshiba laptop computer and had been waiting outside with about 20 friends since 3 p.m. Thursday.

Even restaurants in the area got in the Black Friday spirit. McDonald's opened at 4 a.m., an hour earlier than normal. And the Tim Hortons on Maine Mall Road was packed with customers at 3:30 a.m.

Adam Howard, a South Portland patrolman who was stationed at Target on Friday morning, said there were no problems to report. In the past, he had seen pushing and fighting on Black Friday.

A few years ago, when the mall opened at midnight, some shoppers came straight from the bars and caused trouble, said Howard. And he remembers that shoppers were particularly aggressive in 1996.

Why? That was when the Tickle Me Elmo toy was released.

Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or at:

jhemmerdinger@mainetoday.com

 

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Additional Photos

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Sarah Gillis of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, waits in line at Target in South Portland with a V Rocker Extreme gaming chair, one of the “hot” items at the store Friday.

Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

  


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