PORTLAND – Despite the uncertain economy, some Maine businesses are optimistic that this Black Friday, which some retailers will kick off at midnight tonight, will top last year’s.

“I think it is going to be awesome. Inventory levels are much higher this year than in previous years,” said Melinda Kaufman, store manager for JCPenney at the Maine Mall.

Bart Gillespie, general manager of Best Buy, a mall anchor, was a little less enthusiastic.

“It’s tough to say,” he said, “but I think it is going to be (better). I think we will have more customers and we are expecting a little better turnout.”

All of Best Buy’s 125 workers and all of JCPenney’s 150 employees will be on duty Friday.

Craig Gorris, manager of the Maine Mall, expects this season’s sales to be strong, though he declined to make predictions.

The mall will give customers who spend at least $100 between 6 a.m. and noon today $10 gift cards, though supplies are limited.

Some retailers, such as Old Navy and Walmart, will open at 12:01 a.m. Friday. And Freeport plans a “Moonlight Madness” event, including a midnight foot race. Santa will lead the run on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Target will open at 4 a.m. on what the retailer calls “green Friday,” according to an employee who answered the phone. “That’s when we are supposed to make a lot of money,” she said.

The Maine Mall’s parking lot lights will come on at 3 a.m. and the doors will open an hour later. Retailers that will open at 4 a.m. are Macy’s, Sears, Icing by Claire’s, JCPenney, American Eagle Outfitters, RadioShack, Gloria Jean’s Coffee and Bath & Body Works.

Opening at 5 a.m. are Best Buy, Olympia Sports, Forever 21, Sports Authority, Aeropostale, Victoria’s Secret and Yankee Candle Co.

Staples stores nationwide will have “early bird” specials on Black Friday, with deep discounts from 6 a.m. to noon. And for the first time, the office supplies retailer is offering similar discounts on its website on Thanksgiving.

Other businesses are getting in the game. The McDonald’s near the mall will open at 4 a.m. on Friday, one hour earlier than normal, and Subway shops will open at 7 a.m. Hotels such as the Hampton Inn Portland Airport will serve guests breakfast as early as 4:30 a.m.

Most retail shops will be closed today, although some local pharmacies are open.

The International Council of Shopping Centers, which represents 60,000 members, predicts that 2010 holiday sales will be 3 percent to 3.5 percent greater than last year’s, consistent with year-to-date trends.

The group estimates that 30 percent of consumers, roughly 74 million people, will shop on Black Friday.

Small businesses, never a big part of the Black Friday hoopla, are seeking a part of this weekend’s action. They are getting help from American Express, whose small-business credit card unit is promoting the first Small Business Saturday.

The company is billing the event on a Facebook page as the “one day to support the small businesses that are getting our economy going again.”

U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine supported the initiative in a prepared statement.

“Small Business Saturday provides an ideal opportunity to support our local retailers, who are the economic backbone of our communities,” she said.

The National Retail Federation predicts that 138 million people plan to shop this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, up from 134 million last year.

Friday might be the most notable day for shopping, but it’s not necessarily the most popular. some estimates, nearly 100 million Americans shopped online last year on so-called Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving.

According to a recent survey by the National Retail Federation, nearly 90 percent of retailers will have online promotions on Cyber Monday and roughly 20 percent will offer free shipping.

Because Monday isn’t a holiday, the group said 70 million people will shop from the office, while on lunch break — or when the boss isn’t looking.

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

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