AUGUSTA — When the Herrins and their friends arrived first Thursday night at Kohl’s at the Marketplace at Augusta, they already had a plan in place.

The Skowhegan residents had eaten their Thanksgiving dinner at 1 p.m. and spent the afternoon perusing the Black Friday sales fliers in the Morning Sentinel to find the best deal.

“Every year someone in the family needs a new TV, and this is what we do,” said Rachel Herrin, of Skowhegan. “We go as a group and we get a TV.”

They joined the thousands of other people across the region and across the country who lined up early to get first dibs on the deep discount deals that retailers line up every year to boost sales starting on Thanksgiving at the stroke of midnight in some cases, or 6 a.m. Friday in others.

Officials at the Marketplace at Augusta predicted earlier this week that more than 30,000 people would travel to the outdoor shopping center for its Rocking the Night Away promotion, complete with music, prizes and giveaways overnight.

The Herrins and Jen Viles arrived around 8 p.m. and took their place in line and waited for the doors to open, with music broadcast across the parking lot.

This year, Viles was the TV shopper. She was after a 55-inch TV for $299, and with it, she would get $90 in Kohl’s cash.

“This is only my third Black Friday,” Rachel Herrin said. “Jen is the inspiration.”

As it turns out, Viles was not the Black Friday instigator that Herrin believed her to be; her first Black Friday was three years ago, too.

“I used to read the fliers and go: ‘They are crazy,'” Viles said. “Now I’m crazy.”

With enough people shopping as a team, Viles said, someone can line up immediately at the checkout while someone else grabs the TV.

Chelsie Herrin had her eye on a play kitchen set for her daughter’s second birthday and some other gifts, plus some $3 pillows.

“I saw them and it was a good deal, so I decided to grab them while I can,” she said.

Nationally, year-over-year sales are expected to increase 3.6 percent to 4 percent, said Curtis Picard, president and chief executive officer of the Retail Association of Maine.

Weather is always a concern, he said, and bad weather in the weeks leading up to Christmas can kill sales that retailers can’t replace. But aside from that, he said, Maine retailers are optimistic about the holiday shopping season.

Many customers are sharing that optimism.

Across Augusta at Best Buy, shoppers started lining up early — so early in fact, that most turkeys weren’t even in the oven yet.

Christopher Turner, of Gardiner, was in line at 6 a.m. — and for the next eight hours, he was the line. The next person to show up arrived at 2 p.m.

“I have fun doing it,” Turner said. He routinely shows up first in line.

This year, he was after video games, and he planned to pick up something that a friend asked him to get while he was there.

By the time the store opened at a minute past midnight, Turner had been there 18 hours, fortified only by the banana bread he had picked up on the way in and his breaks to sit down and warm up in his vehicle.

Kami Spitzer and Andrew Gagnon, both of Augusta, arrived at Best Buy about 5 p.m., and they were 13th in line. Like Viles, they were after a TV, the 50-inch Sharp, marked down to $179.99, more than half off the usual selling price of $499.99.

Spitzer has been shopping the Black Friday sales off and on for about eight years. Gagnon said this was his second — and last — Black Friday.

Over at the Big Kmart at Elm Plaza in Waterville, Heather Smith and her cousin-in-law, Benita Jamison, both of Orono, said Friday afternoon that they had traveled close to 1,000 miles since Thursday, cruising the Black Friday sales from Bangor to New Hampshire discount malls to Waterville and back to Bangor to do more shopping.

And all with no sleep, Smith said, loading up their car with holiday presents.

“We’ve been shopping since 4:30 yesterday afternoon and we’ve been awake since 5 a.m. yesterday,” she said with a big laugh. “We did dinner and Thanksgiving. She worked and then we left Bangor and went shopping and drove all the way to New Hampshire and were in New Hampshire by 7 o’clock shopping.”

After all that Black Friday shopping for bargains, they still had spent only about $300, Smith said. She said she and Jamison have done the same shopping route for the past 15 years. This year they bought clothing, blankets, Play Station 4s and other items for family members for Christmas.

“I’ll shop right up ’til Christmas Eve,” Jamison said to a hail of laughter. “I do not lie. I shop right up until Christmas Eve. It’s just a tradition, and we go out and have a lot of fun. We’ve got more stores to go to.”

Meanwhile, at the Walmart Super Store on Waterville Commons Drive, assistant store manager Matt Gallacher was waiting with a Samsung 58-inch ultra-high-definition television to load into a customer’s car. He said the UHD TVs were sailing out the door, marked down for Black Friday to $595. By 2:30 there were only six left in the whole store from a high stack of them when Black Friday sales began.

“It was very busy at 10 o’clock,” he said from the sidewalk as customers zoomed into and out of the store. “We had a lot of our customers here for Black Friday. I actually talked to a few who were here last night, went home for a few hours to get some sleep, then came back to grab the rest of the deals.”

Gallacher said the big sellers this year include Air Fryers, UHD TVs and “Play Station 4s are going like crazy and X-Box 1s, and we sold out of iPhone 6s as well.”

The customer for the TV, Paul LeBlanc, of Waterville, said the TV was marked down from $799, saving him $200.

“That is for me, I guess. It’s for the whole family,” he said, loading the set into his hatchback.

Will he wrap up the box and put it under the tree for Christmas?

“It might be going on the wall today,” he said with a laugh.

Fourteen hours after midnight, Christina Poulin was headed to her car at the Marketplace at Augusta. This year she preferred to leave the early shopping to others.

Poulin didn’t lose any sleep, but she didn’t make up much time by waiting, she said. The lines around 2 p.m., were long, apparently longer than they had been in mid-morning.

“People have been in line 45 minutes or an hour,” she said.

While she thinks she missed out on good deals, Poulin said she has managed to get most of her Christmas shopping done.

While Black Friday might be associated with ways to put retailers back “in the black” when it comes to sales, it was originally named for much more basic human impulses, the Atlantic reported in 2014. In the 1950s, Harvard historian Nancy Koehn wrote, factory managers started calling the day after Thanksgiving “black Friday” because so many workers would call in sick that day — “a disease second only to the bubonic plague.”

In the early 1960s, police in Philadelphia began using “Black Friday” to describe the crowds of shoppers and traffic that would flow into the city the day after Thanksgiving — making their jobs, and their lives, more difficult. It wasn’t until the 1970s and ’80s that retailers began to emphasize the connection between the day after Thanksgiving and the start of the commercial holiday season.

Shoppers will have another chance to score discounts on Cyber Monday, when online retailers take their turn in pushing deeply discounted items to shoppers looking for bargains.

Between the two days falls Small Business Saturday, which encourages people to shop at locally owned businesses to support local economies. Giving Tuesday caps off the run by launching the charitable season, encouraging people to donate money, items or time to causes they support.

Staff photographer Joe Phelan contributed to this report.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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