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Blue laws delayed onslaught

Filene’s Basement was packed with patrons who squeezed in to take a look at a Santa Claus during a holiday season in the 1920s. Filene’s Basement was packed with patrons who squeezed in to take a look at a Santa Claus during a holiday season in the 1920s. (Filene’s Marketing Archives)
By Christina Reinwald and Todd Wallack
Globe Correspondent | Globe Staff / November 26, 2011
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When impatient shoppers pressed against the doors at a Target store in Somerville before midnight on Thanksgiving, it was an employee - also standing out in the cold - who told them to back up.

Under Massachusetts blue laws, employers could not force workers to come in until the stroke of midnight on Black Friday. So most local stores opened at 12:30 a.m. or 1 a.m., giving them only a brief time to prepare for the onslaught of shoppers on the busiest retail day of the year.

For some workers, that meant standing in cold parking lots with the crowds and police, waiting to be let in.

At the Somerville Target, shoppers pressed down some orange netting that was set up as a buffer zone to keep them a safe distance from the doors.

Molly Snyder, a spokeswoman for Target, said the store had no employees inside the building before midnight.

“No team members at the point of the incident were in the building,’’ Snyder said.

Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said the law is “so unclear, so unintelligible that it may be unenforceable. It needs to be rewritten.’’

A spokesman for Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office said it had not received complaints from workers.

Some stores opened earlier - Wrentham Village Premium Outlets welcomed customers at 12:01 a.m. - suggesting some employees showed up before midnight to prepare for the opening. The shopping center didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment. But it had issued a statement saying the mall takes steps to comply with regulations.

Similarly, some stores at Patriot Place in Foxborough opened at 12:01 a.m.

Many people seemed confused that stores weren’t opening until 1 a.m.

“All the circulars said midnight, but now, I’m hearing that it said the Massachusetts time in small print,’’ said Doreen Dellisola, 47, a Somerville resident who was shopping at Target.

Snyder said that advertisements had asked shoppers to check particular store hours online.

There were also signs hanging in the store indicating the 1 a.m. opening, she said.

Dellisola said she has shopped on Black Friday for 10 years, but this was her first time going at midnight.

“Everyone’s trying to save money where they can,’’ she said.

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