Irked by Black Friday madness at local malls, downtown retailers across the suburbs are kicking off the crucial holiday shopping season with a few gimmicks of their own.
The area’s major malls will be getting an extra early start this year, with stores along the Route 128 corridor getting ready to open the day after Thanksgiving at 12:30 a.m.
Small shops and specialty stores in area towns say they can’t even try to match the malls’ midnight shopping hours, though one West Concord natural food store held its annual 5 a.m. sale last Saturday to kick off the holiday season.
Shoppers who showed up in their pajamas were promised a free muffin.
Still, most local retailers are skipping the early-morning hours and are going with promotions ranging from this weekend’s Small Business Saturday, a nationwide event started a few years ago by American Express, to holiday strolls, tree lightings, and creative discounts.
“Black Friday has never worked in our favor,” said Barbara Scofidio, co-owner of noa jewelry, fine handcrafts & gifts in West Concord. “Our experience is that that Friday, everyone goes to the mall. We lose them and don’t experience that boost.”
Janet Reynolds manages the Blue Bunny, a Dedham Square children’s book and toy shop. She launched it nine years ago with her brother-in-law Peter Reynolds, a writer and children’s book author, and her husband, Ian.
The Blue Bunny will be offering $5 gift certificates Saturday to customers who spend $50 or more at her Dedham Square store. She also offers extended hours, staying open seven days a week, and until 8 p.m. on Fridays. Even that’s a stretch, with only four adults and a couple of teenagers to cover all the hours.
“We can’t do the kind of price cuts the malls can do,” Reynolds said. “The people who love to do Black Friday aren’t going to switch it out for the Blue Bunny.”
The Blue Bunny and dozens of other Dedham Square retailers will display their wares during the annual Holiday Stroll, set for Nov. 30.
“It’s the biggest night of the year. We shut down a portion of the square — it is a huge street fair/tree lighting,” said Amy Haeslen, executive director of Dedham Square Circle, which promotes merchants in the square.
Rob Skolnick, president of longtime Wellesley Square retailer E.A. Davis & Co., is also weighing promotions for Small Business Saturday. But it is just one of a number of things he is planning for the season, including a menswear event and another featuring locally made jewelry and handcrafts.
Davis and other Wellesley Square retailers are also hoping to get a major boost from their town’s annual holiday stroll and tree lighting on Dec. 2.
“It is really a big box day,” Skolnick said of Black Friday. “What we are focused on is a season-long selling season as opposed to one day.”
Shopkeepers and store owners in Newton and Needham have launched their own campaign to draw shoppers.
The Newton-Needham Chamber of Commerce gathered hundreds of business owners and elected officials at the Needham Sheraton hotel to sign a Shop Local Shift Three Pledge. By signing, participants pledge to shift three purchases they would ordinarily make at the mall or online to downtown stores and shops.
“Research shows that programs promoting the benefits of shopping locally can make a big difference,” said Greg Reibman, president of the Newton-Needham chamber.
Still, downtown retailers haven’t completely given up when it comes to offering early-morning holiday shopping.
In West Concord, Debra’s Natural Gourmet’s scheduled 5 a.m. opening last Saturday continued a two-decade-plus tradition. Shoppers line up outside in their pajamas, waiting in the dark for a 20 percent discount, said Debra Stark, who founded the store in 1989.
Other West Concord merchants are also getting in on the act now, though they were planning to open a little later, at 7 a.m.
“I do think we have Black Friday beat,” said Adam Stark, Debra’s son.