BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — PEABODY — Unlike scenes of Black Friday shoppers forming lines days in advance elsewhere in the country, Lisa Martiniello of Peabody, her daughter Hayley and friend Robert LeBlanc didn’t have to camp out for a week to be the first in line at the Toys “R” Us by the Northshore Mall yesterday.
Martiniello and crew made it over to the mall at 4:30 p.m. Thanksgiving Day and began an eight-hour siege in the cold to get into the store first. Those in line appeared well-behaved and in the mood for a bargain.
“When I came, I thought (the line) would be a lot longer,” said Martiniello. “I’m surprised it built so late,” she added about the line, which grew rapidly as the store approached its 1 a.m. opening.
A limited number of free gift bags full of toys brought Martiniello to the store. As the line built around midnight, it stretched hundreds of feet in front of the building toward the Shaw’s Supermarket next door. After midnight, employees began handing out SpongeBob SquarePants-themed gift bags. At one point, the cart containing the gift bags tipped over, and shoppers calmly helped the employee put them back on cart.
Martiniello said she would have liked it if the toy store opened Thanksgiving evening to give her a chance to shop, as stores were doing across the country.
“I think they should have put it at 8 o’clock like the TV said, the paper said, the emails,” Martiniello said. “Everything said that the store opened at 8. Then there was another flier that said it opened at 12. It was really false advertisement at both ends,” Martiniello said. The Bay State’s Colonial-era blue laws prevent work on certain holidays such as Thanksgiving and kept stores from opening on the holiday.
How this Black Friday, with its earlier-than-usual store openings, will stack up to last year’s shopping frenzy remains to be seen.
The National Retail Federation forecast yesterday that holiday sales will rise 4.1 percent this year to $586 billion, though it had earlier said a survey showed the number of Black Friday shoppers would be down slightly from last year: 147 million, down from 152 million who planned to shop last year. The federation is expected to release a Black Friday shopping survey Sunday.
Mark Whiting, the general manager of the Northshore Mall, said the holiday shopping season seemed to be off to a good start, and the mall was well ahead of the retail federation’s projections.
“It was great,” said Whiting, who said strong foot traffic seemed to translate into sales, noticing that many shoppers were carrying lots of bags. Many of the young clothing stores like Forever 21 attracted crowds looking for junior apparel.
From 3 to 6 a.m., there was a lull in traffic, but by mid-morning, it seemed shoppers got their second wind.
“We have been at 96 percent capacity at our parking lot from 9 a.m. on,” Whiting said at 4:45 p.m. yesterday.
He said the crowds have been well-behaved with no major issues, other than minor medical incidents from shoppers being dehydrated.
“It’s so great when you work all year long to work for this thing,” Whiting said.
By the sight of things, with the line at Toys “R” Us growing by the minute, people were in a mood to holiday shop just after midnight.
“It’s crazy,” Martiniello said of Black Friday shopping.
“It’s kind of crazy because you hear so many sounds like ambulances and that scares me,” said Hayley, 12.
“I think it can be a little bit crazy because it’s really cold, you have everyone in line talking, you have all these cars going by, it can get really loud,” LeBlanc said.
Jean Burke of Peabody was in line at the big box toy store at 6:30 p.m. and wound up eighth in line. She, too, was surprised there were not more people waiting outside.
“Worth it,” said Burke, who planned her Black Friday shopping in advance. “I go through the circulars, pre-route the stores a few days before, yes.” She said you don’t save money if you don’t do your research, but she also liked the “nostalgia” of going shopping for door buster bargains, meeting up with friends and losing sleep.
“I am going to open up the YMCA in Peabody at 4:30 in the morning, so I’m going from here to there,” Burke said. “It’s all worth it.”
Toward the back of the Toys “R” Us line, Christine Mezza of Beverly stood in line with her mother-in-law, Silvana.
“This is the first time I’ve done this,” Christine said.
“I think she should have this experience,” said Silvana, who researched her purchases ahead of time. “Especially the big items, it’s worth it.” Silvana said she expected to save $100 on a big-ticket electronic item she had her eye on as a gift.
Both felt the stores should honor the Thanksgiving holiday and keep the Black Friday openings around midnight, however.
“I just drove to the Liberty Tree Mall to see how long the lines were,” said Christine, who saw lines at big box retailers snaking across the mall’s expansive parking lot. “Oh my gosh,” she added, “Best Buy, it was way down to Panera. From Best Buy to Panera, it was crazy. And Target was wrapped around the front entrance all the way down to the Staples entrance.”
While the lines may have built later in the day, the Northshore Mall had plenty of them. A long line formed outside of Sears before it opened its doors at 12:30 a.m. The mall also opened at 12:30, though shoppers were let in a few minutes before stores opened. Deep lines formed outside of clothing stores Pink and Tilly’s, with many of the shoppers appearing to be high-school or college age.
“I like it. I have nothing else to do, so, why not, right,” said Molly Passerini of Wakefield as she browsed outside of Tilly’s clothing store. Passerini said the atmosphere inside the mall was a lot less hectic than the line that formed outside of Sears. Passerini, who has worked in retail, said the early openings are not pleasant for workers, but it’s great for shoppers.
While he was able to get into the mall to go the Apple retail store at 12:30 a.m., George Erwin of Wakefield had a bit of a wait ahead of him as he sat on the floor about to “power nap” until 6 a.m. when the store opened.
“Deals, but I’m here for something new, a new product line they came out with,” Erwin said. “It’s well organized, as far as how they are doing it,” said Erwin, who said the crowds in the mall were well-behaved.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.