WATERTOWN, Mass. -- Thousands of Black Friday shoppers, many squeezed by economic uncertainties, lined up in freezing overnight temperatures or got up early to snag the best bargains to kick off the holiday shopping season in Massachusetts.
With high unemployment, a slow economic recovery and a looming "fiscal cliff," many residents said they’re shopping smarter this year, sniffing out deals online and doing a lot more comparison shopping. Others complained about shops opening on Thanksgiving, infringing on family time and forcing retail workers to work on a holiday.
Kala Gurung looked happy and satisfied as she walked out of Best Buy at the Watertown Mall on Friday, accompanied by her 6-year-old son, Adrian. She bought phones, and Adrian will soon get an iPad.
Gurung, who works at a private consultancy firm, said she plans to spend just over $500 on holiday shopping, slightly more than what she spent last year.
"No, we’d definitely not go over the budget because of the economic situation, but we’ll be buying a little bit more," the 31-year-old Watertown resident said.
Joe Russell was hunting for a great deal on a large flat-screen TV and went to the Best Buy store in Watertown shortly after midnight Friday, but the long line of shoppers gunning for door-buster promotions deterred him from braving the cold. He returned to the store after sunrise and got a different TV for "a decent price.
"This is the earliest I’ve ever shopped. Usually I wait until two weeks before Christmas then I go," Russell said.
Russell isn’t setting a budget for this year’s shopping. "I really want to go with the flow there. If I can get it, I get it -- I get some overtime coming up, so I’m gonna kind of put that away" for holiday shopping, he said.
The flat-screen TV he just bought, he said, is the most expensive item he’ll probably buy this year.
"The money is tight these days. You gotta try to get the deals you can," he said.
Still, some shoppers were unhappy that Black Friday openings were turning Thanksgiving into Super Thursday.
Lizzy Casanave, who’s in her 40s, and her mother, Anne Linn, who’s in her 60s, said that, unlike previous years, they didn’t go out to grab the best bargains because retailers started offering those on Thanksgiving night.
"And we refuse to shop on Thanksgiving Day," said Casanave, an Arlington resident. "We don’t like people making people go to work on Thanksgiving Day, so we banned that, decided to come this morning -- but we didn’t get up as early as usual because we knew that a lot of the bargains will probably be gone."
The shopping season stretching to December historically accounts for about 19.5 percent of annual retail sales, with some stores seeing 25 to 40 percent of their sales and profits during the period, Retailer Association of Massachusetts President Jon Hurst said.
He said the group is forecasting a 3.5 percent increase in retail sales during the holiday season when compared with last year. The two-month season generates about $14 billion. Consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of the national economy and Massachusetts tracks that figure, Hurst said.
"It is important that our consumers understand that retail supplies about 17 percent of all jobs in Massachusetts and ... we hope that they remember the importance of local shopping and the importance of the Main Street and the importance of keeping local jobs in local stores," Hurst said.