BANGOR, Maine — Cold rain, hours of standing in line and even rumors of a fracas early Friday morning did not deter thousands of bargain hunters from descending upon the area’s retail stores in the shopping frenzy known as Black Friday.
Police were called just after midnight to a reported altercation at Toys R Us, which opened that early for the first time this year.
“A handful of people were involved in a heated argument over who was first in line,” Steve Hunt, the day shift lieutenant at the Bangor Police Department, said Friday at about 8 a.m. He said the incident “was blown out of proportion.”
Store employees called the police, and four officers in four patrol vehicles arrived at the incident. While no one was charged and police were unaware of any injuries, rumors quickly spread as shoppers moved from store to store.
A pedestrian also was hit by a car in the Bangor Mall area between 6:30 and 7 a.m., Hunt said. That person apparently refused to be transported to the hospital and had minor injuries, he said.
“It’s a busy day for us. There’s thousands of extra people in Bangor,” Hunt said. “Traffic will get progressively worse. People just need to be patient. It’s going to take extra time to go places. … People have to be safe.”
He said officials at the Wal-Mart Supercenter had hired four off-duty police officers to work there from midnight until 11 a.m., which the store has not done before. A Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death by crowds last year on Black Friday at a store in Valley Stream, N.Y.
“I think they went to school on this to try to make it better,” Hunt said. “They have a pretty elaborate system.”
Management at the Bangor store, whose flier indicated it would open at 5 a.m. Friday, directed media requests to the company’s national headquarters, which also was not taking calls on Friday.
The day after Thanksgiving has traditionally marked the beginning of the period when retail stores across the country start to see profits or go “in the black.”
After sales dived last year after the official start to the drawn-out economic recession, jittery area retailers wondered what Santa might have in store for them this season.
Judging from the foot traffic Friday morning and preliminary sales reports from October and early November, Bangor Mall General Manager James Gerety did not foresee any lumps of coal on the horizon. Sales have been up over last year, he said.
“It’s great to see the shopping center full of people and looking down the concourse and seeing all heads and bags,” he said. “It might be a 12-hour day, but we love it.”
One of the bright spots this season continues to be Canadians crossing the border to take advantage of the sales and their country’s strong currency, said Gerety, who had just finished being interviewed by a CBC news crew from New Brunswick.
Angela MacMullen of Quispamsis, New Brunswick, was stuffing shopping bags into her vehicle outside of Toys R Us in the predawn dark. She and several girlfriends make an annual shopping trip to Bangor to stock up for the holidays.
“With the prices and the selection, there is no comparison,” she said.
Inside the store about 5:30 a.m., the depleted aisles, scattered toy boxes and slightly dazed-looking employees gave the impression of having survived a great cataclysm.
“It looks like we took a truck and dumped it out on the floor,” said manager Danny Elston. “It was crazy. Our lines were as long as we’ve ever had them.”
In fact, that line stretched all the way to the Hampton Inn.
A group of workers restocked merchandise around 5:30 a.m. and helped some of the “late” arriving customers try to navigate the denuded shelves.
One customer, Jolene Plourde, came all the way from Millinocket with her two children and a niece.
“Everything’s gone,” she said, surveying the toy store. “It’s crazy. Completely empty. The things I came for are gone already.”
Plourde, along with many other shoppers surveyed, said the recession has continued to affect how her family shops and spends money.
“It is harder for us, but we are making it, barely,” she said.
Jim LaPierre of Milford joked about it while waiting in line at Best Buy about 4:45 a.m.
“I was broke before the recession, and I continue to be broke,” he said. “I’m looking forward to better times.”
Two Bucksport shoppers spoke freely of their disgruntling experience at another large retailer, the new Wal-Mart Supercenter in Bangor.
The mother and daughter arrived at Wal-Mart about 4 a.m. only to learn that the store had opened much earlier than the 5 a.m. indicated in the shopping flier.
“We are just so frustrated,” said Christine Graney, who had hoped to purchase a low-priced laptop.
“We couldn’t get near them,” said her mother, Rosemary Graney, who said the computers were located in the lawn and garden department instead of electronics.
But shopper Marilyn Buzy of Hartland had an opposite experience.
“People in line offered to watch my things,” she said while carrying a load of bags out of Kohl’s about 6 a.m.
Despite her plethora of purchases, she said, her family is watching its spending.
“I would have loved a big-screen TV, but it’s just not in the cards for us financially,” she said.
Last year on Black Friday she saw even more evidence of the recession and found it disturbing.
“People were in need of not just bargains, but basics,” she said. “It is sad. People are desperate, they really are.”