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Region’s malls starting Black Friday earlier this year

Black Friday midnight madness is spreading, with Natick Mall saying it plans to turn on all the lights, open all the doors, and crank up the holiday music at the stroke of 12 o’clock to greet early-bird shoppers on the day after Thanksgiving.

The plans for a midnight “soft opening” at the General Growth Properties site in Natick are forming even as Simon Property Group Inc., which owns several major shopping venues along Route 128 and Interstate 495, forges ahead with plans for a 12:30 a.m. opening.

From Northshore Mall in Peabody to the South Shore Plaza in Braintree, Simon marketers are stuffing goodie bags and laying out plans to offer a festive greeting to middle-of-the-night shoppers.

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Local communities, in turn, have had mixed feelings about middle-of-the-night mall openings, with Marlborough and Burlington taking a more-the-merrier approach while Braintree and Wrentham have expressed concerns.

“It’s the new normal and in some ways it’s abnormal,” said Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan. “We will have police details on site.”

Natick Mall’s decision to light up the entire property and open all the doors comes after a quieter approach to midnight madness last year.

While roughly 30 stores opened at midnight last year, most of the rest of the mall was dark and locked up.

Natick Mall also plans to make a concerted social media push through Facebook and Twitter to alert shoppers about the Black Friday shopping hours, said marketing manager J. Lynn Josephson.

Still, the mall’s official opening remains at 6 a.m.

Simon, by contrast, plans to post “greeters” at the doors of its malls, ready to spread the word about some of the hot sales starting at 12:30 a.m.

That’s 3½ hours earlier than Black Friday last year, when the Simon properties opened at 4 a.m.

Simon malls taking part in the early kickoff include the Burlington Mall, South Shore Plaza, Northshore Mall, Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers, Arsenal Mall in Watertown, and Solomon Pond Mall in Marlborough. (The Mall at Chestnut Hill will open at 9 a.m.)

The malls will be rolling out rejuvenation stations at which early morning shoppers can kick up their heels, and will be handing out goodie bags as well.

The first 250 shoppers who show up at the South Shore Plaza’s guest services booth will be handed a Black Friday “survival kit” holding hand sanitizer, bottled water, candy, and possibly a Simon gift card.

Mall staff will be doling out cookies and other treats to “keep shoppers going and energetic,” said Vicki Bartkiewicz, director of mall marketing for South Shore Plaza, and the food courts will be open, she said.

Meanwhile, local officials are divided over whether the early Black Friday mall openings are a boon or a burden.

Marlborough Mayor Arthur Vigeant wasn’t aware of the early morning opening at Solomon Pond, but is not very concerned about it either.

“It runs pretty smoothly as far as the mall goes,” he said of Black Friday. “It does get a little crazy, but they put on additional staff.”

Vigeant has been huddling with mall officials and hotel owners to find ways to capitalize on a major youth hockey tournament that is taking place in town that day, bringing teams from across the region.

So far there are plans for a shuttle bus between the hotel where the teams will be staying and the mall.

“It’s a great opportunity. We have a lot of people coming down from Canada,” Vigeant said.

“They can spend money at my restaurants, convenience stores, and gas stations.”

But Sullivan, Braintree’s mayor, has fretted about the fairness of forcing mall workers to put in a shift in the early morning hours on Nov. 23.

“We live in a 24-hour cycle now, and in many ways it’s unfortunate stores feel in order to be competitive that they have to open at midnight,” he said.

Wrentham officials raised the strongest objections of any local community, threatening to force Simon’s Wrentham Village Premium Outlets to cancel its plans unless security cameras were installed.

But that dispute has since been resolved, with plans in place for it to open at 12:01 a.m., said John Arzoomanian, the Wrentham mall’s general manager, in a statement.

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