Forever 128

Malls kick it up a notch for holiday traffic

In a past season, Santa's fans line up at the Burlington Mall. In a past season, Santa's fans line up at the Burlington Mall. (Mark Wilson/Globe Staff/File 1998)
By Scott Van Voorhis
Globe Correspondent / November 24, 2011
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Pet photos with Santa, “rejuvenation stations,’’ and goodie bags. The holiday shopping season kicks off at an ungodly hour on Black Friday, and malls along Route 128 are pulling out all the stops.

OK, they haven’t gone quite as nuts as some parts of the country. The highway, with its array of high-tech and biotech companies and the brainy folks who work there, is a pretty cerebral place.

But the big shopping venues along the Route 128/Interstate 95 corridor are taking some extra steps this year to indulge the growing national tradition of post-Thanksgiving binge-shopping.

Tomorrow’s installment of Black Friday is shaping up to be much more of an event, with the Burlington Mall, the Northshore Mall in Peabody, and the South Shore Plaza in Braintree all opening up at 4 a.m. That’s an hour earlier than in years past, and a growing number of individual stores are opening as early as 12:30 a.m.

Meanwhile, several stores at Dedham’s Legacy Place will be opening at 6 a.m., compared with 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. last year, while a few miles off the highway, the Mall at Chestnut Hill and the Atrium Mall - on opposite sides of Route 9 near the Newton-Brookline border - will be opening at 9 a.m.

Black Friday marks the start of an array of promotions aimed at luring shoppers through the holiday season.

In some ways, local retailers are just catching up with the rest of the world.

“If you get outside of Massachusetts, they are all open on Thanksgiving,’’ notes Rick Tonzi, general manager of the Burlington Mall. “I moved here from Los Angeles 27 years ago. We were open year-round; we never had a day off.’’

If you could pull yourself out of bed and get over to the Burlington Mall at 4 a.m., you might be lucky enough to be handed a goodie bag reserved for the first couple of hundred early birds.

And at the Northshore Mall, after you’ve hit all your favorite stores and are feeling weary, you can take a break in one of the mall’s “rejuvenation stations.’’ These are spots offering lots of soft furniture to kick back in, cookies and treats, and “Frosty the Snowman’’ or another holiday movie playing on TV.

Meanwhile, Dedham’s Legacy Place is prepping for its third holiday season. The lifestyle shopping venue is pitching its restaurant-packed lineup as the place for ravenous Black Friday shoppers to pack in a good breakfast or lunch after hitting the area’s lineup of big-box stores.

“The restaurants will be prepared and many will increase their staffing levels. They know there will be more people that weekend and through the holidays,’’ said David Fleming, corporate marketing director for WS Development, the mall’s owner.

Black Friday is just the kickoff to the crucial holiday sales season for retailers. So rather than ending tomorrow, the fun is just getting started, with local malls ready to roll out more promotions and showcase new stores over the coming weeks.

For example, the Burlington Mall told me it has one of the best Santas around. That’s quite a claim. So I asked for proof and was sent a link to a video that shows an older gentleman who is a knockoff of the real St. Nick, no fake beard needed.

Better yet, for the next two Sunday evenings, he will pose for photos with your pet, so he must truly be a saint.

South Shore Plaza’s Santa is getting into the pet photo act as well, with opportunities on Tuesday evenings through Dec. 20.

Meanwhile, two of the region’s more upscale malls, Legacy Place and Chestnut Hill, are planning to showcase some of their newest stores.

Bluemercury, a high-end cosmetics and skin products shop, just opened this month at Legacy, joining other newcomers including Diamond Guild and Carhartt.

New stores at the Mall at Chestnut Hill include Tiffany & Co., Michael Kors, and Kiehl’s, according to Debora Konig, area director of mall marketing there as well as the Atrium Mall and Copley Place.

OK, so who will be pulling themselves out of bed in the wee hours tomorrow morning so they can go shopping on Route 128?

More people than you might realize. Black Friday is catching on here, and it’s more than just a case of retailers jumping on a big fad, local retailers say.

Marketing folks at the malls say they are simply responding to the growing demand. After all, everyone loves a bargain, maybe even more these days when times are tough.

“People make it a tradition,’’ said Sherri D’Alessandro, area director for mall marketing for Northshore and Liberty Tree malls. “Families go together. They wake up early and they have their lists ready to go.’’

And what about all that lost sleep? “I think they go back to bed after they are done with their shopping spree,’’ D’Alessandro said, chuckling.

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