, Newburyport, MA

November 17, 2012

Area malls opening even earlier on Black Friday


---- — PEABODY — This Thanksgiving, you can have your turkey with all the trimmings, watch a football game, take a long nap, then head to the malls for some Black Friday bargains.

Following a trend toward expanded hours by large retailers on one of the busiest shopping days of the year, both the Northshore Mall in Peabody and the Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers will open at 12:30 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 23.

“I think it’s a little chaotic, but I think it’s great,” Brooke Paoli of Lynnfield said. “I plan to hit up Toys R Us and get the toys done for the kids.”

Anchor retailers at the malls have long been opening early on the Friday after Thanksgiving, with openings on Thanksgiving Day restricted by the state’s centuries-old blue laws. These laws, dating back to the Puritans, govern Sunday and holiday openings. Many of them, like bans on the sale of liquor on Sunday, have been repealed in recent decades.

Malls in New Hampshire are opening even earlier. The Fox Run Mall in Newington, N.H. will open at midnight, as will the Mall at Rockingham Park in Salem, N.H.

Next week’s 12:30 a.m. opening is the earliest the two Massachusetts malls have ever opened on this busy shopping day, says Mark Whiting, Northshore Mall’s general manager.

“Simon (Property Group) really recognizes we are here to satisfy two customers,” Whiting said of the malls’ owner. “The first customer obviously is our shopper, but our second customer, if you are a property manager like we are, is obviously our tenant. So, we take our lead from our tenants.”

Amid a challenging economy, retailers are looking to expand their operating hours as much as they can on this day, Whiting said.

“If we are going to be supportive of our tenants’ business model,” Whiting said, “we are going to have to be flexible in how we operate our centers.”

Last year, both malls opened at 4 a.m.

Shoppers at the Northshore Mall had mixed feelings about Black Friday.

“I don’t shop on Black Friday; it’s too crowded,” said Marci Johnson of Marblehead, who said she does her holiday shopping online. “I can shop any day.”

Chris Smith of Manchester said she does not go Black Friday shopping, but her sisters get together, go through the fliers and do a swap of “who’s buying what.”

“I don’t have to (go out on Black Friday) because they do,” Smith said.

“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Melanie Moldovean of Wenham, who was out at the mall with her young son, Alex. “I think they should be home with their families and their loved ones enjoying Thanksgiving and being thankful for what they have as opposed to being out shopping for something they don’t.”

Dorothy Williamson of Newburyport said she and her husband used to go Black Friday shopping to get that special toy when their children were young. Now that she has three grandchildren, however, the self-proclaimed “shopaholic” says she can shop at her convenience.

Others said that they enjoy the Black Friday experience.

“I like Black Friday,” Cristie Carter of Hamilton said. “I like to get a peppermint mocha and walk around and have the Christmas spirit.”

Her plan is to come out at 8 a.m. to check out the crowds and the deals.

Christina Hatfield of Saugus said her daughter is getting married the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Otherwise, she would be out looking for those Black Friday deals.

“I kind of like it,” Hatfield said. “It’s exciting and you get into it, you know.”

“It depends,” said Barrie Hanlon of York, Maine. “It’s strategic. If I can know what I am going to get, I’ll go out and do it.”

She does not have strong feelings about the early openings of stores one way or the other, and as long as no one gets hurt, she said opening early is a good idea for people to have fun, get a jump on Christmas shopping and boost sales for retailers.

“As long as nobody gets hurt,” Hanlon said, “you know those stories where people get hurt, then you have to think twice about it.”

From a logistical standpoint, the earliest the malls can open is 12:30 a.m. Blue laws prevent employees from showing up to work before midnight, Whiting said. It takes about 30 minutes for retailers to prep their stores.

Beverly resident Jon Hurst, the president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said the state’s blue laws may be hurting some Bay State retailers.

“The blue laws are not stopping people from shopping, they are stopping people from shopping in Massachusetts,” Hurst said Tuesday.

There are 47 states that do not have such restrictions.

“It’s a sign of the times,” Hurst said of the desire by some retailers to extend Black Friday as much as possible as they compete with online shoppers. “The consumer has all the tools available in the smartphone to shop 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”

Hurst said that if he were to poll the association’s 3,500 members, some, like grocery stores, would want to open until 1 p.m. on Thanksgiving. That way, customers could pick up that forgotten can of cranberry sauce. Specialty shops, if they had their druthers, would prefer to open in the evenings to give shoppers a chance to hop on Black Friday bargains.

While Black Friday receives a lot of hype, the busiest shopping days at the mall tend to tilt toward the weekend before Christmas when the procrastinators emerge, Whiting said.