Lack of participation by several major retailers didn’t stop thousands of shoppers from staying up late to snag limited-time bargains at Black Friday midnight openings across southern Maine.

The move by some retailers to open at 6 a.m. this year instead of midnight to spare workers and reduce overhead did lead to a bit of confusion, as evidenced by a slow procession of vehicles passing in front of Target in South Portland and then driving away. Target was among retailers that opened at midnight in previous years but opted for a 6 a.m. opening Friday.

In the last minutes before the store opened, 10-year-old Deshawn Lamour bounced anxiously on his tip toes and rubbed his gloved hands together to stay warm.

The Portland boy was the first in line and intended to leave with a $250 55-inch television he had saved up for. He and his mother, Melynda Dunlap, arrived at 10 p.m. Thursday.

“It was a lot of fun,” Lamour said of the overnight in line, which included side trips to nearby stores to shop and warm up. “A lot of people left the (Target) line because it opens at 6 a.m.”

The later opening time caught some shoppers off guard but gave them time to hunt for deals elsewhere before coming back.

“I was already waiting in one line for three hours and now I’m waiting in another for three hours,” said Carol Rickett of Portland, who was shopping at Target with her son, Daniel Hill.

They had already been to Walmart for a quick 20-minute stop, but encountered long lines at Kohl’s.

“It was a nightmare,” Rickett said with a laugh. “You do it for the kids.”

Overall, retailers in Maine said they are going into the season with a fair amount of optimism.

The Friday before Christmas – not Black Friday – was the busiest shopping day in Maine in 2016, according to a study of 450 Maine retailers. The study, by San Francisco-based merchant technology firm Womply Inc., found that Maine retailers had their highest sales on Dec. 23, followed by Black Friday (Nov. 25) and then Small Business Saturday (Nov. 26).

STORMS, E-COMMERCE CAN TAKE TOLL

In 2016, Maine retailers took in an average of 176 percent of normal daily revenue on the Friday before Christmas, 174 percent on Black Friday and 159 percent on Small Business Saturday, according to Womply.

Inclement weather in November and December could dictate how good the holiday retail season is, said Curtis Picard, president and CEO of the Retail Association of Maine. If it happens early enough, consumers can simply postpone their shopping, but it can be devastating if a storm hits right before Christmas because there’s no time left for retailers to make up the lost business.

Another threat to retailers this holiday season is the continued encroachment on their sales by e-commerce businesses. Picard said bricks-and-mortar merchants are making a variety of adjustments to better compete with online retailers, such as offering in-store pickup and same-day delivery of items ordered online or by phone, and adding entertainment, refreshments and other perks to make shopping in the store more enjoyable.

Mike Martel of Lewiston arrived at the Maine Mall, where some stores opened at midnight to long lines, around 5:45 a.m. with his sister Kathy Bilier and niece Lynn Carmichael. They shop together at the mall every Black Friday and were surprised by the lack of large crowds this year.

“We think Amazon has kind of killed Black Friday,” Bilier said.

“This is nothing,” Martel added. “This is like a Saturday morning. I remember times you couldn’t move in here.”

Carmichael, who carried several shopping bags, said she was able to find lots of gifts for people on her list.

“But I ordered stuff from Amazon while I was in the mall today,” she said.

Nycole Nadeau of Brunswick sipped coffee while standing behind her display of LipSense by Senegence products. She and several other local vendors were selling products at the mall as part of a three-day holiday event organized by Maine Supporting Maine.

Nadeau said the mall was crowded at midnight, with lots of teenagers and people headed straight for doorbuster sales.

“I’m usually a Black Friday shopper so I know how it is,” she said.

Nadeau said she expects interest in her products to pick up over the weekend.

BEST BUY DRAWS HUNDREDS

By far the biggest draw for shoppers was electronics retailer Best Buy, which saw hundreds of people lined up outside before its midnight opening time, all hoping to land a doorbuster deal.

The most dedicated Best Buy shoppers were Solomon Benami and his friend Jackson Cochrane, both 15-year-olds from Saco, who literally camped out at the front of the line, tent and all.

“We got here Wednesday at 2 p.m.,” Benami said. “It’s been cold, definitely cold, and raining.”

The friends said they played card games, listened to music and pushed each other around in shopping carts to pass the time while they waited for the store to open. They even took a nap in the tent.

Both Benami and Cochrane were after the same thing: a 50-inch, 4K ultra-high-definition smart TV made by Sharp for $179.

Benami had intended to surprise his parents with the TV, but it didn’t take them long to wonder where their son was and call him up. So they decided to bring food and keep him company while he waited.

“I missed him being home,” said Benami’s mother, Edna Benami. “I was like, ‘Let’s go check on him.’ ”

Excluding the Best Buy line outside at midnight, teens made up at least 80 percent of the mall crowd, with a scattering of semireluctant parents in tow.

“I’m here for Amanda, my daughter,” said Gorham resident Sheila Richardson. “She spends all Thanksgiving making a (Black Friday) plan. She’s putting the first load into the car right now.”

Stores appealing to teens attracted the biggest crowds, including clothing store Pink and video game seller Game Stop. Some of the other merchants didn’t seem to be doing much business at all, even though the mall was packed.

“The adults will come out tomorrow,” said Damian Michael, who was operating a LuLaRoe women’s clothing kiosk inside the mall with his wife, Erica Michael.

The couple said they started setting up Thursday afternoon and were planning to work a 24-hour shift until they were relieved by friends Friday afternoon.

“We actually got a hotel room right across the street, so that makes it easy for us,” Damian Michael said. “We’re here through Sunday, so we’re hoping for a good weekend overall.”

Prakash Sethia of Scarborough was pulling double duty inside the mall, manning two adjacent kiosks simultaneously. Given the high concentration of teens at midnight, he wasn’t expecting many sales from his kiosk of handmade jewelry boxes, candle stands, copper cups and other products imported from India.

But Sethia’s other booth was packed with all manner of toys, including remote-controlled cars, helicopter drones and other high-tech gadgets.

“We’re hoping for business to really boom,” he said. “So far it’s going great.”

Some of the adults seemed to be surveying the chaotic scene with a tinge of unease, including Oxford resident Ryan LaVerdiere, who said he was only there because a friend wanted to go.

“This might have been the last thing I thought I’d ever do,” he said.

When asked if there was anything in particular he was looking for at the mall, LaVerdiere replied, “Just the exit.”

lines ‘insane’ in freeport

Twenty miles north in Freeport’s downtown shopping district, foot traffic early Friday morning was lighter but contained a higher concentration of hardcore shoppers. People of all ages were moving from store to store, many of them laden with multiple shopping bags.

“We came to Freeport because the (South) Portland mall wasn’t open yet,” said Lewiston resident Jonathan Poulin, who was there shopping with his sister Trisha Poulin of South Portland.

Freeport is home to outdoor retailer L.L. Bean, open all year round, 24 hours a day, and one of the only major retailers in Maine that is exempt from the state’s “blue law” prohibiting most stores from being open on Thanksgiving. About a dozen other Freeport retailers, mostly clothing and accessories stores, opened at midnight on Black Friday.

Early Friday morning, the Poulin siblings hit some clothing stores before calling it a night.

“I have to work at, like, 5 a.m.,” Jonathan Poulin said.

By Friday afternoon, cars were circling Freeport parking lots searching for a space and lines stretched out the door at the stores.

Anne Edward of Boston and her family have made an annual Black Friday day trip to Freeport for a dozen years, and this year was no exception. Her husband Mike said he thinks this year is even busier than usual.

“The lines in the stores are insane,” Anne Edward added. The family was tailgating at lunch, eating homemade turkey sandwiches out of the bed of their truck. Their second car, a sedan in the next parking space, was already filled with packages.

She said the family started tailgating after finding it hard to find an easy lunch spot. “I always come up with a plan.”

In Portland’s Old Port, business was steady but unhurried, with available parking spots and sidewalks easily navigated.

“This time of year can be ‘November quiet,’ ” said Beverly Kocenko, co-founder of Liberty Graphics and manager of the Portland store. “They will come. But today’s a day of relaxation after the holiday.”

The last several weekends have been “busy, busy, busy” at Liberty Graphics, which mostly stocks T-shirts with Maine-themed images.

Several local businesses said that Saturday’s “Shop Small Saturday,” a marketing effort aimed at bringing attention to local businesses, will bring bigger crowds.

“Tomorrow is going to be a madhouse,” said Marie Stewart Harmon, the manager of Lisa Marie’s Made in Maine shop on Exchange Street and the daughter of owner Lisa Marie Stewart. Glancing over at two employees at the front register, she laughed: “I told them to buckle in! It’s the end of the slow period.”

Local businesses count on shoppers who want a Maine-made or unique gift.

“I have found that more and more people are shopping local,” Stewart said. On Black Friday, she said, “everyone goes to the mall.”

Shopper Nonnie Preuss of Boston said that’s why she made a point of coming to downtown Portland.

“We wanted to get locally made crafts,” said Preuss, as she picked out Christmas tree ornaments – a lobster in a trap and a lobster buoy – at Lisa Marie’s Made in Maine.

 

Staff writer Noel K. Gallagher contributed to this report.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at:

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J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at:

[email protected] photo by Brianna Soukup