BREWER, Maine — Dedicated local shoppers and those from as far away as Canada braved the cold — some waiting as long as nine hours — to get inside the Walmart Supercenter in Brewer at 12:01 a.m. Friday to ensure they were the first in line for Black Friday deals.
“I got here at 3 p.m.” Thursday, Etna resident Teresa Harvey said while standing at the front of one of two lines into the Wilson Street store with a group of seven family members. “This is a tradition. This is our third year.”
There were similar scenes near the Bangor Mall and at the Maine Mall in South Portland.
What would make a person stand in line for nine hours?
“Laptops, the 32-inch TV,” Harvey responded — and another item she couldn’t reveal.
“I have my daughter, Jessie, with me so I can’t tell you the other one,” she said.
Some of the shoppers, drawn by the allure of deeply discounted laptops, big screen TVs, the iPod touch and other electronic devices, then stood in line for another five hours to secure the items they had come for but which did not go on sale until 5 a.m.
“We’re here to shop and save,” Robert Richards said of his group of five who drove three hours from Saint John, New Brunswick, to hit the Black Friday sales.
He was at the head of the line for a 32-inch television on sale for $198, and his girlfriend, Tammy Robichaud, was in another line for a 19-inch TV for $98.
There were similar lines at the Toys R Us, Best Buy and Walmart stores in Bangor, where long lines of shoppers were in a frenzy to get the best deals.
Nearby, the Bangor Mall opened at 5 a.m. and other area stores opened their doors at 3, 4 and 5 a.m. to attract bargain hunters. The McDonald’s on Hogan Road was open at 2 a.m.
Shortly after the Brewer Walmart’s doors opened, Richards and Hermon residents Margie Peterson and Kim Prouty got in another line for 32-inch Emerson flat-screen TVs on sale for $198. Only 95 were available.
Richards’ girlfriend, Tammy Robichaud, was in another line.
“She’s in a different line, either the 19-inch screen or the laptop, I’m not sure,” he said, adding he left his cell phone in the car so he couldn’t check. “It’s an adventure. With 13 percent sales tax in New Brunswick, it’s worth it.”
Richards’ group arrived at the store at 6 p.m. Thursday in order to get in line, and Peterson and Prouty pulled into the parking lot at 7 p.m. By 12:30 a.m. Friday, the line for the flat screen TVs stretched up one lane and down another, but units were still available for those willing to wait.
Prouty said she and Peterson have made Black Friday shopping a tradition, but added as she sat waiting for her TV that she longed to be shopping for more deals.
The Brewer Walmart had numerous lines scattered all over the store for its big-ticket items, on sale between 5 and 11 a.m. The first 29 people to get in line got an eMachine laptop for $198, and the first 106 to line up for the Nintendo DS Lite handheld game systems walked away paying only $89.
Sales associate Michelle Redmond said at around 12:45 a.m. that the line for the Nintendo DS systems was already pretty long.
“They’re a hot item this year. They were last year, too,” she said.
The crowds this year were big, but in years past they’ve been bigger, assistant manager Tom Stelline, who has worked for Wal-Mart for 13 years, said as he ushered shoppers into the store at midnight.
“This is very mild compared to other years,” he said.
The line of customers at each of the two entrances stretched to the back of the parking lot, which was full.
“Please be safe and try not to run,” Stelline instructed shoppers as they first entered the store.
While shoppers from all over the region flocked to Brewer, even larger numbers headed to the Bangor Mall area, where parking was scarce outside every store that hosted black Friday sales.
Similarly, at South Portland’s merchandise Mecca, the Maine Mall, the most sought-after item was a free parking spot — even at 11 a.m. The outdoor lines at Best Buy were down a bit from last year, according to store manager Bart Gillespie, with roughly 400 shoppers braving the cold versus about 700 last year.
But as soon as the interior doors opened to shoppers inside the mall, Best Buy was flooded, right back to 2009 levels, said Gillespie. He figured the unwelcoming weather of snow and icy rain was enough to make some shoppers choose to enter the mall for shelter and then enter Best Buy a bit later.
The die-hard door-buster shoppers were the first shift of consumers hitting stores. The second shift was made up of people such as Mark and Brittany Blais of Portland. They showed up to the Maine Mall at about 9:30 a.m. Friday.
“We wanted to avoid the crazies,” Brittany Blais said.
The two had done the midnight madness shopping a few years ago and didn’t need a repeat, she said.
Alex Martin, 17, of South Portland hit the stores with a bunch of friends, looking for some movies for Christmas presents and some athletic gear for himself.
“A lot of stuff’s real cheap today – that’s why we come out,” he said.
Martin tries to exercise patience, he said, as he’s not much of a shopper. He tries to get in and out, normally, but that can be challenging on Black Friday, when the stores are thronged and the lines are long. As his friend worked through the line at Best Buy, Martin found a conveniently placed office chair nearby (attractively priced at $209.99).
“Wheel me forward when we move,” he instructed his friends.
Elsewhere in the mall, Justina Warren, Samantha Peknik, Brianna Walker and Isabelle Doughty moved from store to store with determined purpose — a pack of shoppers on the hunt.
The Portland teens were looking for Christmas presents, said Warren. “Cheap” presents, added Peknik. And, of course, “cute clothes,” said Doughty.
While the priority is presents for others, something for oneself is always in the back of one’s mind, said Doughty.
“Family and friends come first,” she said.
Added Walker, “You’ve got to strategize. You come with a certain amount of money.”
They came as a group so they could get their friends’ opinions on potential purchases, the girls said. They were dropped off at 6 a.m., and planned to shop “as long as we can,” said Doughty.
Jennifer Doughty, Isabelle’s mom, showed up a little bit later to do some holiday shopping, and to find a birthday present for her son. The girls work well together in a pack, she said.
“They know what they’re doing – they stay together,” she said.
Nearby, Malcolm Watson of Fredericton, New Brunswick, took advantage of one of a group of armchairs the mall has out in the central concourse to grab a snooze. He had reason to nap. He and his wife and his sister and brother-in-law had started the day at Walmart at 3 a.m.
The four had come down to Portland on Wednesday and have done so for a few years. They used to drive down to Bangor, but decided to try something new a couple of years ago. Watson’s sister and brother-in-law live in Madawaska. The four met in Houlton and drove to Portland.
Brother-in-law Joe Lavoie said he had been following Watson’s example a few minutes earlier.
“We go from chair to chair,” Malcolm said, revealing the Black Friday game plan.
The wives showed no such weakness.
“They don’t nap,” said Lavoie, laughing.
The group had hit the Freeport shopping district earlier in the week, and planned to return north Saturday. Watson said Americans tend to put a lot more energy into Thanksgiving, in general, whereas Canadians generally save it all for Christmas. This year, Watson noted, he had something extra to be thankful for.
He had a heart attack on Sept. 19, and had quit breathing for 27 minutes.
“I’m fortunate,” he said simply.