November 30, 2013

Maine shoppers flood local stores on Black Friday

And the deals will keep coming on Small Business Saturday.

By Jessica Hall jhall@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Many retailers in southern Maine reported brisk sales and steady crowds on the first shopping day after Thanksgiving, when stores opened earlier than usual to draw shoppers.

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From left, Matt and Amy Powell of Durham, along with Danielle Marston of Norway and mother-in-law Brenda Marston of Oxford, make their way back to their vehicle after shopping at the outlets in Freeport on Friday.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Melanee Paul of Kennebunk picks up her purchases from sales assistant Louisa Gemmer, right, at Blanche + Mimi in Portland on Friday.

Amelia Kunhardt/Staff Photographer

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Mexicali Blues in Freeport had a line of shoppers at its door late on Thanksgiving night, so it opened at 10:30 p.m. instead of waiting for midnight.

“People dress up and it’s very social. It’s an event,” said store manager Chris Cummings, noting that many shoppers were on the streets more to socialize with neighbors than to hunt for bargains. “Everyone’s happy because they’re choosing to be out – they don’t have to be out. ... It’s a highly social, high-energy atmosphere.”

Cummings said the store had its best early-morning Black Friday ever, but would not give specific sales figures. The store reported that people were buying smaller items but more of them.

Bull Moose said Friday that sales were up over last year’s Black Friday sales, but it did not provide specifics.

“What I find remarkable every year is how great people who shop at Bull Moose on Black Friday are,” said Chris Brown, a founder of the Maine-based music, book and video game chain. “They are very excited about what they came to buy, and very eager to check out all the crazy deals, but they also are very good-natured and patient. We often see customers helping each other out, talking about music and movies, giving advice, even helping each other find things.”

Three Bull Moose stores ran out of Pokemon X for the Nintendo 3DS, and one store ran out of the DVD version of the film “The Big Lebowski,” Brown said.

“Those were advertised at really low prices, so I guess it makes sense we would run out of a few things,” he said.

Simply Scandinavian in Portland said it had stronger-than-expected sales on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, but Friday’s sales were weaker than those a year ago, said the store’s owner, Thomas Grant.

“Today feels like a Saturday, where the crowds didn’t pick up until the afternoon,” Grant said.

He said some customers have become keenly aware of sales and promotions, often browsing the store for ideas and then bargain-hunting on the Internet.

“It’s showroom shopping. They come here to see and touch and then look online for something similar,” Grant said.

Other customers return to the store for its array of apparel, food and baby gear, he said.

His weak sellers? Crystal glasses, vases and accessories, Grant said.

“Until the economy really solidifies, things are up and down. You have to be really attuned to your customers,” he said.

Shoppers in Freeport on Friday said they were surprised by the extent of the discounts, which went as deep as 50 percent in some stores.

“Freeport wasn’t even in our plan,” said Lisa Whited of Portland, who got up at 5:15 a.m. with her daughter, Claire Chanis. “I was skeptical about Black Friday shopping and was hoping she would keep sleeping, but she was committed to going out shopping and now I’m glad we came.”

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U.S. consumers are expected to spend an average of $738 each on holiday shopping this year, a drop of 2 percent from last year, according the National Retail Federation. Shoppers in Portland’s Old Port laughed at that number, saying it’s higher than their own holiday budgets.

Nationally, holiday sales are expected to increase 3.9 percent this year, to $602 billion, topping last holiday season’s gains of 3.5 percent and the 10-year average holiday sales growth of 3.3 percent, according to the National Retail Federation.

Sales forecasts for Maine were not available.

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Additional Photos

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Shoppers browse at LeRoux Kitchen on Commercial Street in Portland on Friday.

Amelia Kunhardt/Staff Photographer

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Becky Clarke of Oakfield shows a pair of boots to her daughter Emily Clarke, foreground, as the two shop for Black Friday deals at the L.L. Bean outlet in Freeport on Friday.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Jorge Jurado and his son Jorge Jurado Jr., visiting from New Jersey, carry their purchases out of the Maine Mall in South Portland after a morning of shopping on Black Friday. Southern Maine retailers reported brisk sales and steady crowds.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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