SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Colby Jenks and Solomon BenAmi arrived at the South Portland Best Buy store around 8 p.m. to wait for the midnight opening for so-called Black Friday sales.
That was 8 p.m. Wednesday. The two men, both from Saco, spent their entire Thanksgiving holidays lined up for the deep discounts that mark the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season, waiting through record low temperatures.
“I can’t wait to get in the warm building,” said Jenks with eight minutes to go before the doors opened. “We just actually put away our tent. We had sleeping bags, blankets, pillows. We came prepared.”
Portland’s temperature of 6 degrees Thursday was a record low, beating the 1972 mark of 13 degrees and cold enough to force the local high schools to reschedule their annual holiday football game.
But not cold enough to deter Jenks, BenAmi and hundreds of others from lining up at Best Buy and a number of other major retailers around Maine.
When asked what they were getting, BenAmi said: “TVs, Echo Shows, Echo Dots, etc.”
Echo Shows and Dots are products made by retailer Amazon, essentially little electronic assistants you can talk to. Best Buy was advertising the Echo Dots and Shows at less than half-price for Black Friday — Dots were selling for $19.99 compared to their usual prices of $39.99, while Shows were selling at $99.99, down from $239.99 — and televisions were marked down by hundreds of dollars.
They said about half the items would be socked away as gifts, half would be for themselves.
With so many Mainers so cold and so eager, it would be easy to imagine some conflicts, but at least at this South Portland location, there was no obvious pushing, shoving or even complaining. The party atmosphere culminated in cheers when the doors finally opened, retail employees offering excited high-fives to the shoppers as they flowed into the store, about a hundred at a time to control the chaos.
Despite the almost mob atmosphere and the day’s national reputation for sometimes violent competition for limited supplies, Maine is among the safest states in the country for Black Friday shoppers, according to the technology-review website Reviews.org. The site compared overall violent crime rates, state-by-state search volume for “Black Friday deals” and Friday-after-Thanksgiving reports of injuries per 100,000 people to rank all the states.
Under that criteria, Maine was ranked the 15th safest state out of 50, behind North Dakota and ahead of Montana. Vermont was named the safest, while Arkansas, Tennessee and West Virginia were listed as the most dangerous.
In many states, the throngs of shoppers have access to their Black Friday deals on Thanksgiving itself, with retailers opening up on the holiday. But a Maine law effectively blocks big box stores from opening on Thanksgiving, forcing shoppers to wait until midnight — officially Friday, and when it’s black out, no less — for the proverbial door-buster sales.
The personal finance website and trendy infographic producer WalletHub reports that the best Black Friday deals at Maine brick-and-mortar stores this year could be found at JC Penney and Kohl’s, which are offering average discounts of 65.1 percent and 60.8 percent, respectively.
Nationwide, only Belk department stores are offering bigger average price markdowns than JC Penney, but there are no Belks in Maine.
Among stores with physical presences in Maine, office supply store Staples is offering the deepest average Black Friday discounts on consumer electronics, at 42.26 percent, while Big Lots has the biggest average markdowns on appliances in the state (50.02 percent) and Sears wins in the jewelry category (78.83 percent), according to Wallethub.
Storewide, Best Buy was offering average discounts of 28.7 percent, according to the website, with the store’s average video game markdowns of around 47 percent the best in the field.
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