By Jim Sullivan
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Temperatures in the high 50s brought a myriad of people to downtown Newburyport on Black Friday yesterday, leading local business owners to feel cautiously optimistic about this year’s holiday shopping season.
“I’d rather be here than at the mall,” said Colleen Detjens of Earlham, Iowa, as she took a break at the 17 State Street Café. “You don’t have to fight the crowds. It’s easier to find parking. Honestly I think the small town, local shops are friendlier and you can find things that are more individualized, whereas at the mall it’s pretty much the same cookie-cutter types of things.”
Sales clerk at the Dragon’s Nest Ann Simpson was working last Black Friday and said this year’s crowds were a little different.
“I’d probably say, same but different,” said Simpson. “Last Black Friday, it was steadier, this time, it is spottier. It comes in huge waves and then is receding. Last year, it seems like it was steady from the beginning. It’s a nice day and there’s parking, because people are saying they’re not walking from a hundred miles and that they’d rather be here than in a mall and fighting that kind of traffic.”
Indeed the old fashioned New England ambiance of downtown Newburyport is what drew many people to the area yesterday.
“In Newburyport, I’m not so much looking for good deals as cute and trendy,” said Gail Detjens of Haverhill. “We’ve got eight people and they’re wandering all over Newburyport buying, buying, buying.”
Newburyport, Amesbury and other downtowns don’t cater to the “Black Friday” box-store business plan that sees people showing up at the wee hours of the morning fighting for heavily-discounted items. Instead, they turn to their own innovations, such as “Invitation Nights” in early and mid December, during which the streets are crowded with people enjoying refreshments, entertainment, and a traditional holiday shopping experience.
Valerie’s Gallery owner Valerie Stainton had been making sales since before her shop opened at 9 a.m. and was feeling good about the holiday season just beginning.
“Everyone is in a really good mood. No one is really talking about the economy or anything,” said Stainton. “You’re not really sensing any pessimism. I’m just optimistic about the season. It’s going to be a great season.”
Local shopper Deb Potter of Newburyport was at French Lessons Boutique on the lookout for a “funky/different” outfit for her 30th Masconomet High School high school reunion and felt that the warm weather might be keeping some people away from the shops.
“I would think that anyone who is outdoorsy and would be shopping on Black Friday otherwise is out on the beach or hiking or whatever else they can do in the sun at 52 degrees at the end of November,” said Potter. “I’ll be heading there as soon as I’m out of here.”
French Lessons’ sales associate Lauren Sundstrom said her shop was seeing plenty of new customers with locals bringing guests in from all over the country, but that it wasn’t necessarily translating into sales just yet.
“It’s busy, not as much sales but everyone is coming in to look around,” said Sundstrom. “But sales are pretty much normal for any other day. There’s a lot more foot traffic. It’s a lot more new people.”
The manager of the Soak soap bar Dianne Sirard was in the middle of some remodeling for the upcoming season when this year’s early Thanksgiving occurred and said she was seeing a lot of regular customers coming out in the unseasonably warm weather.
“It’s very busy,” said Sirard. “Everything is very weather-dependant around here. We’re trying to get ready for the holidays and I think the weather is making a big difference today. Everybody seems to be Christmas shopping and very festive.”