On Black Friday, local downtowns draw those looking to avoid chaos of big box stores
Bumper-to-bumper traffic crept across the Mystic drawbridge Friday, as visitors filed along West Main Street, the sun shining, the shops warm and inviting.
The calendar said it was Black Friday, the day many retailers turn a profit for the year, but except for shopper's attire, the scene could have passed for a Friday in July, say, at the height of the tourist season. Somewhere, frantic shoppers were getting the drop on Christmas deals; here, they seemed almost content to browse. As in the summer, many were from out of town.
"We're here because of the small stores," said Jody Mitchell of Stratford, who was shopping with her two daughters and her sister, Leslie Quinn of Newtown.
It was the group's second Black Friday visit to Mystic, Mitchell said, noting that it was the quaint downtown's seeming lack of connection with the frenzy associated with the day that drew them.
"No chaos, no rush," Quinn said.
Would they at some point brave the big box stores, many of which had opened Thanksgiving night?
"No," Quinn said. "That could crush our spirits."
For Debbie Dakin and Ed Gartner, a couple visiting from Ramsey, N.J., Mystic was more haven than mecca.
"After the storm, we just wanted to get away," Dakin said, explaining that Superstorm Sandy had whacked Ramsey but good, leaving them without power for eight days.
"We both work for municipalities; our offices were closed for a week," she said. "We're staying at Foxwoods, and this is our first time in Mystic. We're staying for the parade tomorrow" — a lighted boat parade featuring a tree-lighting and caroling from 6 to 9 tonight.
Shopping was hardly their priority. "If we see something, we'll get it," Gartner said off-handedly. "We decided not to do the mall thing this year."
Across the street, a couple of men chatted outside a store their wives had entered.
"We're shopping widowers," Steve Yusko, a Trumbull resident, quipped. "They ought to have chairs outside for the guys."
The Fairfield man conversing with Yusko said he didn't understand the "madness" that drives some shoppers to camp out in parking lots waiting for stores to open on Black Friday - or Thursday.
"With the economy supposedly in the tank, you still have people out there waiting to buy stuff," said the man, who declined to give his name. "More power to them."
Pedestrian traffic was light on Broad and High streets in downtown Westerly, where such local shops as Woodmansee's Gifts & Boutique and Bea Smith's women's apparel were touting prices discounted as much as 30 percent and 50 percent, respectively.
Jessica Nicolosi, general manager of Carrie's Shoes on High Street, said she wasn't expecting "huge sales" Friday, given the community's plans for a promotional event next month.
"Our Black Friday, if you will, is the holiday stroll the first Wednesday in December," she said. "That's when we pull out all the stops."
Sponsored by the Greater Westerly-Pawcatuck Area Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Business Association, the event, officially known as the 16th Annual Holiday Stroll & Luminaria, will take place from 5 to 9 p.m. Dec. 5.
Nicolosi said the big box retailers' extended hours and discounts likely were cutting into smaller stores' Black Friday business. In response, the Saturday following Thanksgiving has become Small Business Saturday - a day for local stores to get their turn in the commerce limelight.
"This year is probably on a par with last year, but not necessarily any better," she said. "As long as we keep up with last year's numbers, we're happy."