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Gray Thursday? Maine Shoppers Won't Be Joining the Frenzy
11/21/2012   Reported By: Jay Field

Millions of Americans will pick up and head out to begin their Christmas shopping, just a few hours after taking their last bite of Thanksgiving turkey.  The special deals and midnight chain store openings that have come to define Black Friday are not limited to Friday any longer.  More and more retailers are opening up Thanksgiving evening, on so-called Gray Thursday.  But as Jay Field found out, small businesses here in Maine can't join them, even if they wanted to.

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Gray Thursday? Maine Shoppers Won't Be Joining th
Originally Aired: 11/21/2012 5:30 PM

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Few cities in Maine are experiencing as much growth as Belfast right now. Scores of new businesses have opened downtown in the past couple of years. There's an artesian cheese shop, a  new restaurant and a computer store that services Macs and PCs. The city, always humming in the summer, now hums in the fall and throughout the holiday shopping season.

"It weighs equally with the summer, in terms of business that it brings the store," says Lindsay McGuire, one of three owners of Left Bank Books (right).  McGuire is hoping the store's first holiday season in Belfast adheres to recent form.

But she pauses for a moment when asked if she and her partners have plans to open up Thursday evening or in the wee hours of Friday morning. "No, that's about the last thing we would consider doing in a million years. That's just really sort of vulgar and ridiculous."

In a nod to their colonial past, Maine, Rhode Island and Massachusetts all have so-called "blue laws" that prevent large
retailers from opening on Thanksgiving Day. Stores in Maine with five or fewer employees can remain open. But none of a handful of retailers surveyed in downtown Belfact indicated plans to open their doors.

"We'll all be happily sleeping in bed and so will our customers," says Michelle Walker, who says her women's clothing boutique, Coyote Moon, will be open later in the evenings, starting in mid-December.

"We're very customer oreinted but I'm also very employee oriented, and I wouldn't want to have my employees working on a holiday that's really about gathering with family and being together and offering a sense of appreciation for one's life and gratitiude for what's here," she says.

"I have a little men's department," says Dee Bielenberg, who runs City Drawers up the hill. The underwear store caters mostly to women, with a few choice items for the guys.

"We have some cotton and organic cotton, bamboo," she says. "And then, we just brought in a new line - it's a Swedish brand called Bread and Boxers. It's packaged like bread. It's kind of fun."

Bielenberg got the idea for the store about a decade ago, when Belfast was debating whether to allow big box retailers to set up shop. "The side that is in favor of the big boxes says we need them because there is nowhere to get underwear," she says.

Bielenberg, like her fellow shop owners, doesn't have any special plans for Gray Thursday or Black Friday. But she eagerly mentions her excitement about taking part in Small Business Saturday. American Express got behind the promotion three years ago, as a way of encouraging more Americans to shop at small, independently-owned businesses in their communities.

Bielenberg also notes that Belfast merchants have their own special early-bird shopping day. "So they open at 6:00 a.m.," she says. "I think, traditionally, there was a graduated percentage off - so the morning would start off with, say, a 30 percent discount. And then, at 7, there would be a 20 percent discount. We don't do the graduated discount, but we do have deep discounts that will be available 6 to 9, Saturday the 1st."

So if Black Friday isn't your thing, you can head over to Belfast week after next, where you can have an early morning shopping experience, without total sleep deprivation.

Photo by Jay Field.



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