WATERVILLE — At Kmart in Elm Plaza early Friday morning, sales on electronics and popular toys drew lots of early shoppers for the national day of spending known as Black Friday.
“We definitely ran out of shopping carts within seconds of opening,” said Andrea Keith, a Kmart customer service employee. “There were a ton of customers and it was a very positive start to the shopping season.” Keith was going on her seventh hour at the store at around 6:30 a.m. Among the sales were 50 percent off handbags, buy one get one on buy-one-get-one free footwear and 24-inch LED RCA televisions — normally $220 — for $159.99.
According to the National Retail Federation, sales are expected to be up 3.9 percent from last year to $602 billion during the last two months of the year, yet the lingering effects of the Great Recession mean that stores are still aggressively cutting prices in order to attract money-saving customers.
Hundreds of people in the Waterville area flocked to stores for a jump start on the Christmas shopping season starting at midnight Friday when the first retailers opened their doors. At Kmart and other stores in the area, shoppers said they were trying to take advantage of early morning and Black Friday sales in an effort to get most of their Christmas shopping out of the way.
Karla Schieferstein, 51, of Fairfield, had filled a cart with Barbie dolls and other toys for her grandchildren early Friday morning at Kmart.
“I wanted to get here early to get the deals. And I have a 3-year-old in the house, so it’s not like I would be able to sleep in anyway,” said Schieferstein, who was shopping with her granddaughter Natalie Feris, 3.
Diane Berry, 57, of Corinna, said she had already been to Kmart once Friday morning and was back for a second visit by 6 a.m. She had also visited Walmart, Target and Big Lots in Augusta.
“I’ve been everywhere and I’m starting to get tired,” said Berry. She started shopping at midnight and said she wouldn’t have wanted to start any earlier.
Maine law prohibits stores larger than 5,000 square feet from opening on the holiday, one of just three states that prohibit Thanksgiving Day shopping. Around the country, early holiday openings, which are becoming more frequent, are also seen as a break with tradition that have drawn protests at some stores like Walmart, some of which remain open 24 hours through the holidays.
“I think Thanksgiving should be Thanksgiving. It’s not for shopping,” said Terry Bishop, 53, of Embden, an early morning shopper at Kmart who said she thought the sales were better on Black Friday. “If people want to start their Christmas shopping, they can do it on Friday.”
At nearby Sleeper’s, a Maine chain that sells clothing and footwear, manager Neil Landry said that the ban on larger stores being open on the holiday is a good idea. The Waterville store opened at 6 a.m. on Friday.
“It’s important for staff to be home with their families on the holidays,” he said. “Even if the law changed, I don’t think we would be open on Thanksgiving.”
At Reny’s in Madison, there were just a few customers in the store when it opened at 8 a.m. Friday. The store does an early bird sale in November that it typically uses to launch the holiday shopping season, so Black Friday is not so hectic, said manager Dean Olmstead.
“It’s still a busy day for us, but I think people tend to come after they hit the big box stores,” said Olmstead. He said the store is also looking forward to today’s Small Business Saturday, a response to Black Friday that promotes shopping at local stores on the Saturday following Thanksgiving.
At Madlyn’s New & Used Consignment Shop in Waterville, owner Melissa Holmwood was wearing a Santa hat and greeting customers early on Friday. The store was offering 50 percent off everything in the store from 8 to 9 a.m., 40 percent off from 9 to 10 a.m. and 25 percent off for the remainder of the day.
Among the many shoppers browsing through racks of clothes and shoes were mother and daughter Brenda and Alisha Hines, who said they started their morning at around 7 a.m. at Walmart in Waterville.
“I think we timed it just right. There was no one there,” said Brenda Hines, 45, of China. “We weren’t looking for anything particular. We just wanted to go out together for some mother-daughter shopping time.”
Rachel Ohm— 612-2368[email protected]