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Fri., Oct. 9
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Retailers rev up sales to open early for Black Friday


Instead of rising in the wee hours of the morning, those seeking to get a jump start on Black Friday shopping in Watertown may do so Thursday night after capping off their Thanksgiving as stores are opening earlier this year.

And shoppers should have plenty of Canadians to compete with in checkout lines as hotel managers on Arsenal Street — where shopping will be concentrated — say their rooms are booked.

To lure more traffic, giant big-box stores and other retailers are electing to open their doors earlier for Black Friday this year. Sears and Walmart are breaking new ground by opening at 8 p.m. Thursday, for example, while Target will kick off its sales at 9 p.m.

Retailers at the Salmon Run Mall, which will open at midnight, expect more traffic during the early morning hours because of the trend. Sears, which opened at 4 a.m. Friday last year, has geared up for its 8 p.m. Thursday opening by scheduling all of its roughly 100 employees to work shifts from Friday through Saturday, said manager Scott C. Raines.

“This is going to give customers more choices,” Mr. Raines said. “They can now shop after Thanksgiving dinner if they want to. The hours also help us compete with JCPenney, Lowe’s and Best Buy.”

And the mall is expected to be packed with more shoppers this year, he said, because many stores are opening at midnight instead of later in the morning.

“Historically, most of them have waited to open until 4 or 6 a.m.,” he said. “Foot traffic will be up and down the mall at midnight.”

Deb, a women’s clothing store at the mall, will open at midnight Friday after starting at 4 a.m. last year. All store merchandise will be marked 50 percent off for the sale, and store employees will be dressed for the occasion by wearing glittering attire adorned with sequins, said assistant manager Amelia G. Small. Selecting matching outfits is a tradition for Black Friday at the retail outlet, where the staff dressed in red outfits last year.

“It’s going to be no holds barred here and our employees are very excited,” she said. “We had people fighting to work the midnight shift here.”

Mrs. Small — who will wear a sequined skirt with black leggings and a glittery tanktop and cardigan — said employees were given a 50 percent discount to buy their outfits for Black Friday earlier in the week. And to keep their stomachs full to get through the morning, the staff members organized a massive potluck. They’ll be fueled by candy and snacks in the evening along with doughnuts and orange juice in the morning.

Mall manager Mary P. Dudo called Black Friday “the kickoff of the holiday season for many families in Watertown.”

Retail stores at the mall have opened early for years, she said, but more are choosing to open at midnight or sooner this year.

Rooms booked at Arsenal Street hotels that will be filled mostly by Canadians signal more people than last year will cross the border to shop during the weekend. The Holiday Inn Express and Hilton Garden Inn in the City Center Plaza have booked rooms from Thursday through Saturday.

One of the factors contributing to the increased traffic this year is a Canadian policy launched in June allowing shoppers to bring back more merchandise without paying duty fees, said Holiday Inn Express general manager Charlotte H. Waterson. Canadians can now take back $200 in merchandise after a 24-hour stay and $800 after a 48-hour stay. They were previously allowed to bring back exempt merchandise totaling $50 for 24 hours and $400 for 48-hour visits.

“When they can take back more, it has just the same increase on how much they’re going to spend,” she said. “Canadians are coming to shop sooner this year.”

Among the hotel’s 115 rooms booked for this weekend, she estimated about 85 percent were claimed by Canadians.

Jody L. Petit, general manager at the Hilton Garden Inn, said about “99 percent” of its 132 rooms are booked by Canadians. The hotel, which opened in September 2011, will brew its coffee for guests at 4 a.m. Friday and is providing extra sheets and towels for the weekend.

“This is the calm before the storm,” said Mrs. Petit, who attributed the high Canadian traffic to a sign of economic growth. “I think consumer confidence is up this year in both countries.”

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