Blue laws mean later start for Mass. shoppers, but Black Friday frenzy underway

Frugal shoppers sought Black Friday bargains today. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)

The Thanksgiving holiday would not stand between Ying Zhong of Braintree and a new washer and dryer. While much of America prepared Thanksgiving dinner, the 29-year-old was camped out in the parking lot of the South Shore mall waiting for Sears to open so he could buy the appliances for half price.

“It’s kind of fun,’’ said Zhong, standing at the front of a throng of enthusiastic shoppers. “You don’t get to do this everyday.’’


Black Friday may be a holiday all its own for many shoppers and extreme bargain hunters. Shoppers in Massachusetts have increased their holiday season spending every year since 2008, when the economy dove into a tailspin, and are expected to spend $14 billion during this year’s holiday sales, a 3.5 percent increase from last year, according to a survey by the Retailers Association of Massachusetts

Most of that spending will take place this weekend, said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for the NPD Group, a market research firm.

“It’s front loaded,’’ he said. “Consumers are spending their money earlier than ever.’’

Across most of the nation, retailers opened on Thanksgiving Day in what many say is an effort to compete with an online retailers that never close. Those changes have not occurred in Massachusetts, one of three New England states that still forbids the practice based on 17th century blue laws. But consumer habits may be changing. The International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs surveyed 1,000 consumers earlier this month and found that 33 percent of shoppers intended to do their buying on Black Friday, down 1 percentage point from last year.

There was little evidence of that in the wee hours of Friday, or even on Thursday. At Best Buy in Danvers a mammoth line snaked across the Liberty Tree Mall well before midnight when many stores would open. Yet many shoppers seemed to be on the hunt grudgingly.


Arthur Geswell of Manchester-By-The -Sea was done by 1:15 a.m., walking out with a doorbuster deal — $249 for a Asus laptop. Yet he was not thrilled he had to truncate his holiday to make it happen.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous and unnecessary. Why do they make us come in at this hour?’’ the 63-year-old asked. “Thanksgiving is supposed to be a day you spend with family. Why do we do this?’’

Patricia Casoli of Revere said she is spending more this holiday season because after two years of unemployment, she landed a job in a school cafeteria. At Walmart, her cart was filled with an assortment of pink items for her 7-year-old daughter, like a bean bag chair, Monster High Doll, and pajamas.

This was her first time participating in the Black Friday scrum, and the ordeal left her underwhelmed. “I wouldn’t do it again,’’ she said.

Shoppers had to work to score bargains. As hundreds of people plowed through the discount store looking for large TV’s, laptops and Wii games, many exited in the dark wondering why they bothered.

Michele Royal of Malden waited in line outside for six hours only to come up short when the clock finally ticked 1 a.m. and Walmart opened its doors. Unable to find the scooter her daughter wanted, she was red faced and confused.

“You can’t find anything,’’ said said Royal. “They send you here, they send you there,’’ .

But the Black Friday veteran, drawn by the thrill of the hunt, said she did score a deeply discounted child’s bike for $35.


Nearby, with a shopping cart loaded with TVs, Furbys and Legos, Dina O’Connor said she was exhausted and ready to pack it in. The 42-year-old mother from Marblehead said her biggest beef was not being able to find the TV she wanted fast enough. Instead of the electronic’s section, it was in the Garden Center.

“I feel like we are mice in a maze, she said, “and they are watching us and laughing.’’

Despite the logistical setbacks, O’Connor did well. By comparing prices on ahead of time and writing down the items she wanted and sale prices, she found everything on her list. Calculating on her smartphone, O’Connor estimated she saved $300.

At the South Shore Plaza, shoppers strode purposefully through the halls, frantically coordinating divide-and-conquer strategies by cell phone with family and friends. In various lines around the mall, strangers conversed freely, sharing horror stories of Black Fridays past and swapping tips on product features such as camera megapixels and TV resolution. As each store opened, they cheered and shouted with a mixture of relief and joy

Anita Perkins of Quincy, a self-described Black Friday die-hard, showed up at the Sears in Braintree looking for a 50-inch Toshiba TV marked down from $899 to $300.

She endured a five-hour wait in line but to her, the sacrifices were worth the rewards.

“I’m a veteran at this; been doing it for 25 years,’’ said Perkins, 50. “Retailers “make it hard to stay away, the way they’re dropping prices.’’

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