Mild temperatures gave Maine retailers a boost as they kicked off the holiday shopping season with midnight openings on Black Friday.

Retail industry leaders at the state and national levels said they had high expectations for the opening weekend of what is typically the year’s busiest month of shopping. There were early indications of increased buying activity both in store and online, they said, while noting that Black Friday weekend alone does not dictate the industry’s holiday success or failure. According to the National Retail Federation, nearly 136 million Americans were expected to shop either online or in person over the Thanksgiving weekend, an increase of about 2 million from 2014.

Thousands of shoppers poured into The Maine Mall in South Portland early Friday and darted straight toward their favorite stores to get in line for special Black Friday “door-buster” deals.

Hundreds more were lined up outside Best Buy at midnight, some having arrived as early as 5 a.m. on Thursday. They were seeking deals on HDTVs, laptops, iPads, BluRay movies and video games.

J.R. Watanasiri of Windham was surprised to find at least 500 customers in front of him when he joined the line just before midnight outside Best Buy. He was hoping to purchase a discounted Xbox One video game console but said he probably would end up having to buy one online.

Watanasiri, 18, said curiosity brought him to the mall, but that he wasn’t planning on a repeat appearance next year.

“This is my first time, and probably my last time,” he said.

Mall shopper Stanis Moody-Roberts had given up on his plan to procure a limited-quantity, 50-inch HDTV for $150 at Best Buy and was milling around the Microsoft Store checking out Surface tablets.

“The line was too long,” the 26-year-old Portland resident said. “It’s probably all gone. I’ll come back when there’s no line and get whatever TV is on sale.”

Not all stores at the mall opened at midnight Friday. One noticeable non-participant was the Apple Store, which was locked and dimly lit. Others had signs on their doors saying they would open at 5 a.m.

Mason Frazier and Belle Jones, co-owners of handmade jewelry seller Wired Up, were just starting a 22-hour marathon shift operating a kiosk inside the mall. With a target audience of women in their 30s and 40s, things were off to a slow start.

Still, the Black Friday veterans said they were well-prepared for the long hours ahead. “We’re soldiers,” Jones said. “Just don’t mess with us after 22 hours.”


The National Retail Federation has predicted holiday sales this year will rise 3.7 percent, slightly down from last year’s increase of 4.1 percent, and Curtis Picard, executive director of the Maine Association of Retailers, said he is cautiously optimistic that this year’s holiday shopping season will be a strong one.

Fuel prices are down and trending lower, which Picard said has a direct impact on discretionary spending.

“That’s real money in their pocket,” he said. “That really translates into extra money to spend.”

But there are other variables that affect consumer behavior in Maine, Picard said. One of those is the weather.

Black Friday got off to a reasonably comfortable start, with the temperature hovering around 50 degrees in southern Maine. In 2014, the overnight temperature on Black Friday was in the 20s.

However, the most important weather-related factor is what happens in the days leading up to Christmas, he said. In 2013, an ice storm hit during that period, which “ruined the season,” he said.

“That last weekend before Christmas is as busy or even more busy than Black Friday weekend,” Picard said.

Retailers are also very concerned this year about the potential impact of terrorist attacks, he said. If more attacks were to occur, particularly in the U.S., nervous consumers might decide to stay home and forget about going holiday shopping.

“That could have a chilling effect on consumer behavior,” Picard said.


Although the outlook for the rest of the holiday shopping season isn’t certain, the start appeared to be brisk. Heading down the road toward Target at 1 a.m. Friday, traffic around the mall was roughly equivalent to that of a typical Saturday afternoon. The Target parking lot was nearly full, and some shoppers already were exiting, carts piled high.

Inside the store, things appeared to be going smoothly for staff, aside from locating the occasional lost child.

Store Team Leader Cara Sandberg said the company carefully coordinates the checkout process on Black Friday by using staff to direct customers from a single, snaking line to the next available cashier. It allows cashiers more time with each customer while minimizing the opportunity for conflicts to erupt, Sandberg said.

“There’s no cutting, there’s no fighting,” she said.

Jessica Locke, 38, of Hollis, brought her daughter and a friend to Target but said they weren’t compelled by any desire to nab a particular door-buster deal. They bought mostly pillows, plus a giant stuffed bear, some Tupperware and a box of Q-Tips.

“We just went for the experience,” Locke said. “She’s never been Black Friday shopping before.”


In Kittery, where many stores opened at midnight, it was quiet just before sunrise, with pairs and small groups of shoppers checking out deals at outlet stores advertising deep discounts.

It was the calm before the second storm, store managers said as they restocked shelves and took coffee breaks.

“Customers are excited to be here. My employees are excited to be here,” said Amy Powell, manager of the Coach outlet, which opened at 11 p.m. Thursday. “There was a lot of hustle and bustle.”

Sisters Laureda Philippe and Marie Guerrier drove up from Massachusetts to avoid the overly crowded malls closer to home.

“Here it’s quieter and you don’t have people pushing you left and right,” Guerrier said as she looked through a stack of 99-cent jeans at Old Navy.

Kathy Akopov, director of marketing for Kittery Premium Outlets, said there were big crowds of shoppers at midnight, including groups of tourists from Canada.

Joshua Ruff, senior merchandising manager at Old Navy, said the Black Friday rush began Wednesday, when the store began special sales. There was a long line of customers at midnight and he expected that busy atmosphere to continue through the day.

“From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m we’ll be slamming busy,” he said. “This is the most fun time of year for us.”


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