SOUTH PORTLAND – Just after dawn on Black Friday, Matthew Pettirgow pulled into the Best Buy parking lot and had no trouble finding a parking spot near the store entrance.
There were no crowds of shoppers competing for doorbuster sales and parking lots at many retailers in the Maine Mall area were nearly empty. Most stores have done away with the midnight openings that used to attract hoards of shoppers looking for the best deals.
“It’s nothing like it used to be,” said Pettigrow, who is from Limington and was shopping with his mother, Heather Collins.
They were prepared to head to the mall at midnight, but waited until closer to 7 am when they realized stores weren’t opening earlier. Pettigrew, list in hand, planned to take advantage of Black Friday deals to score some PlayStation 5 games and possibly a laptop for himself.
“It’s cheaper today,” he said. “I like saving money.”
Despite the slow in-person start, a record-breaking shopping weekend is expected. The National Retail Federation, the largest retail trade group, estimated 166.3 million people were planning to shop from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday, including 114.9 million people on Black Friday.
Inflation has been slowing, but elevated prices for food, gas, heating oil, housing and other household costs have hit many shoppers hard. Experts say many people are reluctant to spend unless there is a big sale and may shop at less expensive stores than they have in the past.
The National Retail Federation expects holiday sales growth to be between 6% and 8%, far below the blistering 13.5% growth last year. However, these figures, which include online spending, are not adjusted for inflation so real spending could even be down from a year ago, the Associated Press reported.
In recent years, many retailers have moved away from doorbuster deals to focus on online sales that begin weeks before Thanksgiving and stretch through Christmas.
Collins, who lives in Standish, understands why many people shop online for deals on holiday gifts, but she prefers to wander through stores as she picks out presents for her grandson and others.
“It’s more fun to shop in person and see the stuff,” she said. “You get it right now.”
Shannon Haskell of Saco was a bit surprised to see how empty the Maine Mall parking lot was early Friday morning. When she went to bed on Thursday, she didn’t plan to go Black Friday shopping. But her teenage son was up at 4 am to go shopping with friends and so she got out the door, too.
“I was up so I figured I’d go shopping,” she said as she loaded the electronics she bought for her sons into the back of her SUV.
This story will be updated.
Nighttime road closures in Falmouth required for I-295 bridge projects