November 22, 2018


Marketplace at Augusta expecting more than 30,000 shoppers for Black Friday sales

From Black Friday through Giving Tuesday, shoppers have options for fulfilling seasonal giving.

AUGUSTA — Nicole Harbaugh doesn’t always get up for the early Black Friday sales, but this year she plans to.


“I’ll be looking for kids’ stuff — toys, mainly,” Harbaugh said.


Suzanne Callahan, Harbaugh’s mother, takes a different approach. Throughout the year, she keeps an eye out for things that catch her eye in her travels around Maine and elsewhere.


The shopping habits of these two women highlight the different profiles that retailers are trying to connect with as the 2017 holiday shopping season kicks off in earnest Thursday night.


Nationally, year-over-year sales are expected to increase 3.6 percent to 4 percent, said Curtis Picard, president and chief executive officer of the Retail Association of Maine.


Weather is always a concern, he said, and bad weather in the weeks leading up to Christmas can kill sales that retailers can’t replace. But aside from that, he said, Maine retailers are optimistic about the holiday shopping season.


“The price of gas is low, unemployment is low and the stock market is chugging along, so hopefully people have more disposable income,” he said.


If they do, they have their choice of when and how to spend it.


Black Friday, with its ultra-early opening times and deep discounts on popular toys and electronics, is followed by Small Business Saturday, which encourages people to shop at locally owned businesses to support local economies. Cyber Monday tries to lure shoppers with online deals; and after all of that, Giving Tuesday caps off the run by launching the charitable season, encouraging people to donate money, items or time to causes they support.


In Augusta, the Marketplace at Augusta continues its annual Rock the Night Away. Planners expect more than 30,000 people to pass through the open-air shopping center between 8 p.m. Thursday and 5 a.m. Friday. During the event, shoppers will have the chance to see Santa and Mrs. Claus and other holiday characters, hear Victorian carolers and see a light show. Free coffee, doughnuts and snacks will be served to shoppers; and at midnight, radio stations 107.9 The Mix and Cruisin 93.5 will have their annual Tab Grab, paying the tabs of random shoppers in line and handing out cash and gifts.


Because the event has been going on a number of years, it’s simpler to put together, said Ellyne Fleshner, director of Regional Marketing for WS Development. WS Development operates the Marketplace.


“It’s a very community-oriented program where people want to have a good experience,” Fleshner said.


It draws people from across the region and from as far away as the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec, and New York state.


A number of the stores will open at midnight and stay open throughout Black Friday. A number of other stores that will not be open at that time are providing cookies and treats, she said.


Harbaugh, 33, who lives in West Gardiner, said she’s not sure yet how early she’ll start shopping; it depends on whether she’s up at 3 a.m. or 5 a.m.


Callahan, 61, has been shopping on Black Friday before, but she doesn’t consider herself a “crazy” Black Friday shopper.


The Pittston woman said she’s managed to complete some of her shopping already, thanks to trips around the state to places such as Camden or Boothbay Harbor.


“If I see something that reminds me of someone, I’ll pick it up,” Callahan said.


She doesn’t limit her shopping to coastal areas; she said she also likes to shop in Hallowell and Gardiner, which has launched an online Holiday Gift Guide through the Gardiner Main Street website,


Diana Twombly, program coordinator for Gardiner Main Street, said the webpage developed to make finding information on local businesses easier for visitors, who might not be familiar with them.


Picard, at the Retail Association of Maine, said initiatives such as Small Business Saturday have an effect on the state’s independent retailers, who have been reporting year-over-year sales increases tied to that day.


“Shopping locally and shopping small should be a 365-day-a-year deal,” he said, but added that their success on that particular day speaks to the value of good marketing and creating excitement about the products they have to sell.


“People come into their stores and find things they can’t find anywhere else,” Picard said.


Harbaugh and Callahan don’t rule out shopping online for the holidays.


“It depends on what I’m looking for,” Callahan said.


Harbaugh said she’ll consider it if she can’t otherwise find what she’s looking for.


Both women try to honor the spirit of Giving Tuesday in some fashion, even if it doesn’t happen on that day.


Callahan said her gift-giving is focused on her children, her grandchildren and 12 pets, but she’ll support Toys for Tots during the season, or, as she did last year, buy a Thanksgiving box to donate at her local grocery store.


During the holiday season, Harbaugh said if she’s shopping with her children, she’ll give them whatever change she has.


“I want them to be the ones to put the money in the Salvation Army kettles,” she said. “I want to teach them the value of giving.”


By: Jessica Lowell

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