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.

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.”

SPENDING DATA OFFERS MIXED REVIEWS

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.

Amber Greenwood of Auburn said she was new to Black Friday shopping. Greenwood got up at 3:30 a.m. Friday and started her shopping day at Bull Moose in Lewiston before going to Freeport.

“I also worked in retail for 10 years, so I’m used to seeing Black Friday from the supply and retail side,” Greenwood said. “This is my first time as a shopper. I’m getting to see it from a different perspective.”

Megan Abercrombie, a sales clerk at the Blanche + Mimi housewares boutique in Portland, said the store opened at 9:45 a.m. Friday, 15 minutes earlier than planned, because customers were already standing outside.

“We’ve been busy all day, but we’re expecting some further pickup tomorrow on Small Business Saturday. That’s really been an effective promotion that seems to grow every year,” Abercrombie said.

As part of that effort to encourage Americans to support local stores, Jeanne Hulit, acting administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration, and Gina McCarthy, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will attend an event at Longfellow Books in Portland on Saturday.

Small Business Saturday started in 2010 as a promotion by American Express. Last year, shoppers spent $5.5 billion in the “small business” movement, according to an estimate by American Express.

“Small Business Saturday is really starting to get legs,” said Denise Cole, a co-founder of D. Cole Jewelers on Exchange Street in Portland. “People seem to think of Black Friday as a day for the big-box stores and Small Business Saturday as the day for local businesses.”

LONG LINES OF BARGAIN HUNTERS

D. Cole Jewelers in the Old Port expects an increase in traffic Saturday, but the store tends to get busiest on the Saturday before Christmas and on Christmas Eve.

“Jewelry makes a great last-minute purchase. We’re definitely busiest the closer and closer we get to Christmas,” Cole said.

Except for certain sporting-goods stores, such as L.L. Bean, stores larger than 5,000 square feet with five employees or more cannot open on Thanksgiving, by state law. So retailers in Maine from Target to Best Buy to Toys R Us waited until midnight to open, letting in long lines of bargain hunters.

Allie Walker, 17, of Gorham and Katie Pride, 18, of Scarborough arrived at the Maine Mall at midnight.

Walker, who shops on Black Friday every year, planned to spend $300. Pride, who was shopping on Black Friday for the first time, said “my mom said $120 is my limit.”

About 2,000 people were at the Walmart in Auburn when the store opened at 12:01 a.m. Friday. Police arrested one woman for disorderly conduct, saying she tried to force her way to the front of the line, The Associated Press reported.

Before midnight, the line in front of the Target in South Portland stretched the length of the building and around the corner. At nearby Toys R Us, several hundred shoppers – including some who huddled in small tents – waited for the doors to open. The crowd at the Walmart in Scarborough was even larger, with two lines of several hundred people each. Nationally, Walmart said it set records on Thanksgiving, exceeding the 22 million customers it got on Thanksgiving last year.

From 6 to 10 p.m. Thursday, Walmart processed more than 10 million register transactions in its stores, while its website processed nearly 400 million page views, including customers who used mobile devices and tablets.

Target Corp. said it had “unprecedented numbers” of shoppers in its stores, online and on mobile devices, with website traffic and sales among the highest in a single day. In the early-morning hours after the “doorbusters” – deeply discounted items in stores and online – first became available, Target.com got twice as many orders as it did last year, the company said.

Staff Writer Gillian Graham contributed to this story. 

Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

jhall@pressherald.com

Twitter: @JessicaHallPPH