Early-bird shoppers will be able to flock to the region’s shopping malls sooner than ever on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, which marks the traditional start of the holiday season for retailers.
Burlington Mall, Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers, Northshore Mall in Peabody, and Square One Mall in Saugus will open at 12:30 a.m. on Nov. 23, a full 3½ hours earlier than last year’s 4 a.m. opening. The move reflects a push by mall operator Simon Property Group of Indiana to cash in on consumers’ increasing appetite for holiday bargains.
“Simon made the decision nationwide,” said Matt Bourassa, general manager of Square One. “I believe it’s in reaction to anchor stores, like Macy’s and Best Buy, opening earlier last year, as well as response to Black Friday promotions.”
A festive mood, with store greeters and musicians playing holiday music, is planned. The first 200 shoppers who enter the malls will receive survival kits, filled with gifts and prizes from mall tenants. “It should be a vibrant, happening place,” Bourassa said.
In other states, including New Hampshire, Simon malls will open at midnight on Thanksgiving. But in Massachusetts, state blue laws prohibits retailers from opening on the holiday.
That means store employees can’t report until 12:01 a.m. on Friday. Allowing time for workers to get in place, doors won’t open to shoppers until 12:30 a.m. Even so, moonlighting at the mall on Black Friday may not suit every store.
“It’s up to each retailer to decide if they want to open,” Bourassa said. “I would expect most of our merchants to be open. It really depends on their line of business. I wouldn’t expect a nail salon to be open, but it will be up to the stores.”
Mall stores won’t be the only retailers opening in the dark. Walmart and Target, giant discounters that have stores across the region, will be opening at 1 a.m. on Black Friday.
One retail analyst believes the earlier openings should get the holiday shopping season off to a fast start. “It’s all about the retailers trying to bring more consumers into the store,” said Bill Rennie, vice president of the Massachusetts Retailers Association, a statewide trade group. “It’s all about driving customer traffic, and bringing attention to whatever promotion is running.”
Rennie said the association plans to release this year’s annual holiday shopping forecast Thursday at its annual meeting. “We’re optimistic for a pretty good increase over last year,” he said.
As with other years, some local malls plan to have plenty of security guards and local police officers on hand to direct traffic or provide security. “We will have a police presence in the area,” said Burlington Police Officer James Tigges, who schedules details for the department. He declined to discuss particulars of the mall security plan.
In Saugus, the mall and other Route 1 retailers have requested a police presence. “We work hand in hand with them,” said Saugus Lieutenant Ronald Giorgetti. “Especially with the earlier opening and the marketing of new products, we do what we can to make sure things go smoothly.”
For Danvers police, early retailer openings seem like old hat.
“Walmart and Target have been opening earlier for years,” said Danvers Police Chief Neil Ouellette. “We generally don’t see any traffic details for that night, but historically we do get calls for assistance from people who stand outside, waiting to get into the stores. But there have been only minor disturbances.”
Peabody Police Chief Robert Champagne said his department has worked with management at Northshore Mall to develop a traffic plan. “It’s a feasible plan for the safe movement of traffic,” Champagne said. “Traffic on that day is always a challenge, but maybe with the mall opening earlier, it will end early.”