BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — PEABODY — The Northshore and Liberty Tree malls are gearing up to handle hordes of turkey-stuffed shoppers seeking Black Friday doorbusters.
Both malls will be open at 12:30 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 29, for the second year in a row. But the state’s Blue Laws will prevent them from pushing their opening back even earlier, to Thanksgiving evening, as is the case in 47 other states.
And quite a few shoppers at the Northshore Mall this last Wednesday said that’s fine by them.
”Thanksgiving should be off, you know,” said Kevin Little of Salem, who said there is already enough commercialization around the holidays as is.
Mark Whiting, general manager of the Northshore Mall, said the 12:30 a.m. opening last year — the first time the mall tried it — worked out well.
”Honestly, we had strong customer traffic right from the get-go last year,” Whiting said.
The National Retail Federation forecasts a 3.9 percent jump in holiday sales over last year, with shoppers plunking down $609 billion for those perfect gifts. Added impetus comes from the calendar — Thanksgiving falls as late as it can be this year, shortening the holiday shopping season.
”For us, that places extra importance on supporting our retailers and making sure we don’t miss a beat,” Whiting said.
It also means big expectations for the day after Thanksgiving.
”I think Black Friday will be a huge, huge day,” said Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.
In other parts of the country, many retailers are opening on Thanksgiving evening, allowing shoppers to get a jump on Black Friday deals. Kmart is even offering doorbusters starting at 6 a.m. Thanksgiving morning in other parts of the country.
In Massachusetts, Maine and Rhode Island, however, Blue Laws restrict retailers from opening on Thanksgiving.
While there’s some debate about whether opening on Thanksgiving helps sales or causes a backlash, there’s evidence that consumers want to shop as early as possible, according to a recent National Retail Federation blog post.
In 2012, 28 percent of customers who shopped on the Black Friday weekend were at the stores by midnight on Thanksgiving. That’s up from 24 percent in 2011 and 10 percent in 2010, according to Retail’s BIG Blog. The blog also points out 36 percent of people aged 18 to 34 preferred to shop on Thanksgiving. That’s the highest percentage for any age group.
But locally, the idea got a mixed reaction among shoppers at the Northshore Mall.
”No shopping on Thanksgiving,” said Bill Drake of Gloucester. “It’s a time to be with the family, and it gives folks who work in stores an opportunity to be with the family. I think we should close everything down for Thanksgiving.”
Drake said he does not go shopping on Black Friday. “I think that whole thing is overplayed. I don’t understand it,” he said. “There is plenty of time to go shopping between Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
Christine Banks of Everett agreed. “I think people should be with their families,” she said. Banks intends to start her Black Friday shopping at 6 a.m. rather than 12:30.
”Just the sales,” Banks said of what draws her out. “Whatever the sales are, trying to get all my shopping done in one day.”
Jacqueline Roy of Boxford said she’s no fan of Black Friday but also said there is no reason why shoppers should not be allowed to shop on Thanksgiving.
Britni Pierce and her friend, Cristian Faia, both of Everett, also favored the idea of being able to shop on Thanksgiving.
”If there is an extra day, it may be better,” Pierce said, “because so many people come, and it’s so busy. And I know I personally don’t even try to come because I can’t deal with all the people.”
Faia suggested shoppers might be a little less frantic with more time. “People can be vicious sometimes with all the deals and everything opening at midnight. If it’s open longer, the better it would be.”
Hurst says he’d rather stay home and watch football than shop on Thanksgiving, but he thinks consumers should have the choice to shop on Thanksgiving if they want.
Local customers can already shop on Thanksgiving online, through a smartphone or in New Hampshire, he noted; the Blue Laws simply prevent those dollars from being spent with Massachusetts retailers.
While the Northshore Mall won’t open until 12:30 a.m. on Black Friday, shoppers will be lining up by 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving, with lines extending down the entire length of the Toys ‘R’ Us building, Whiting said.
Should they open even sooner?
”All I can say is there is absolutely a tremendous consumer response to the Black Friday shopping tradition that starts for us at 12:30,” he said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.