The holiday shopping season appears to be off to a fast start for Maine retailers, with a big boost in online shopping leading the way.

Many retailers reported that the crowds on Black Friday, particularly early in the day, were a bit thinner than in recent years. That was the case at the Maine Mall the morning after Thanksgiving.

But online shopping is taking up the slack.

Early national estimates by retail analysts suggests that foot traffic and in-person sales actually dropped from last year on Black Friday, although shopping on Thanksgiving Day grew, leaving a 3 percent overall decline over the two days. In Maine, along with Rhode Island and Massachusetts, big retail stores are barred from opening on Thanksgiving Day.

Amanda Eaton, center, and Marissa Carville work at Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine in downtown Portland on Monday. The store works with about 400 Maine-based artisans selling items including jewelry and food products. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Small Business Saturday was projected to result in nearly $20 billion in spending at restaurants and shops, according to the National Federation of Independent Business and a survey by American Express. Shoppers are encouraged to patronize locally owned small businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Marie Stewart Harmon said business at the two Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine shops was strong over the weekend. The stores – one in Bath and one in Portland – focused over the weekend on Christmas ornaments, she said, and many shoppers seemed to be people from away who were in Maine to visit relatives.

She said support for the store, which features goods made in the state, has grown steadily since her family opened a shop 15 years ago.

“The first few years, people were like, ‘I didn’t even know people in Maine made things,’ ” she said. “But buying local is more and more important” to shoppers today. That’s the stores’ strength, she said.

“My mom writes over 400 checks a month (to vendors) and they all go to a Maine address,” she said.

There were steady crowds during the first big weekend of the season, Harmon said, and overall sales seemed to run ahead of last year. Analysts said early shopping will be a key to the strength of the holiday season for retailers, because a late Thanksgiving makes for the shortest possible holiday season.

PORTLAND BUSTLE

Maine’s largest city was busy Saturday, said Casey Gilbert, executive director of Portland Downtown.

She said shoppers were attracted by Small Business Saturday combined with Shop For a Cause, in which stores contribute to a local nonprofit. In the past, the effort has raised $8,000 to $10,000 for groups aiding the homeless and those in recovery from addiction. This year’s recipient will be the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, Gilbert said.

Jewelry made by Mainers is displayed for sale at Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine in downtown Portland on Monday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Shop owners can either contribute a flat amount or a percentage of sales, she said, so it will be a few weeks before the total amount contributed by the 56 participating stores is calculated.

“It is so wonderful to see people being conscious about how they choose to spend their money,” Gilbert said.

Curtis Picard, president and chief executive officer of the Retail Association of Maine, said reports he’s gotten were that holiday sales were strong. He surveyed his membership Sunday night to get an initial feel for how sales went over the extended holiday weekend.

Maine shop owners are continuing to adapt to “omni-channel shopping,” he said, meaning in-person sales and online sites where consumers can select items that they can pick up at the store or have shipped to their homes.

“For most retailers, they’re now one and the same,” he said of the bricks-and-mortar and online versions of the stores. And younger shoppers – in their late teens and early 20s – are starting to show a preference for shopping in person, Picard said. Their older siblings show a marked preference for shopping online, he said.

Harmon said Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine started an online store a few years ago, figuring it would attract people from out-of-state who had visited one of the stores while in Maine. But Maine residents patronized it as well, she said, so they offered an in-store pickup option for local residents to pick out merchandise online and then pick up the items on their next trip into town.

Weather will be a key to the season from here on out in Maine, Picard said. A bad storm the weekend before the Christmas holiday could knock predictions of a solid season off track.

Analysts say they expect overall sales to increase 3.8 percent over last year’s holiday season, just slightly below the average increase of 3.9 percent the last five years. But online sales are expected to make the biggest jump, increasing about 15 percent, while in-store sales will grow just 1.6 percent, the analysts predict.

Adobe Analytics, which tracks transactions at 80 of the top 100 U.S. online stores, told the Associated Press that its data showed Cyber Monday still holding up as the biggest online shopping day of the year, even though the same deals have been available online for weeks and the name harks back to the days of dial-up modems. Shoppers are expected to spend a record $9.4 billion on purchases made on their phones and computers Monday, up about 19 percent from last year’s Cyber Monday.

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