(Telegraph (Nashua, NH) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Nov. 24--MERRIMACK -- For Kelly and Kristen Koczan, of Tyngsborough, Mass., Black Friday shopping is a post-Thanksgiving tradition.
Every year, they spend the hours after turkey dinner heading to the closest Coach outlet and picking out new purses and bags to give each other for Christmas.
"Now that she's moved out of the house, it's really just time to spend together, just the two of us," Kelly Koczan said of the mother-daughter shopping trip.
This year, the pair spent their Friday morning at the Merrimack Premium Outlets, joining hundreds of other shoppers for the outlets' first Black Friday event since opening last summer.
It was one of many shopping centers in Greater Nashua that were bustling with activity Friday morning -- some opening as early as Thursday evening -- as shoppers waited in long lines to snag deals on everything from TVs, cameras and computers to apparel and jewelry.
It was a common scene around the country, as more and more retailers opened earlier with bigger door-buster deals in hopes of boosting what's shaping up to be a mediocre holiday shopping season.
Merrimack Premium Outlets General Manager Elaine Devine said outlet staff had been preparing for Black Friday for months. The outlets officially opened at midnight, although some stores opened at 9 p.m., and Devine said it was clear that locals and visitors were ready to shop early.
Outlet workers said stores were busy all night, with lines out the doors. By midnight, lines were forming in front of registers in many retailers.
The Swarovski crystal outlet store had shoppers waiting in line outside the entrance well into the early morning.
Devine said it was hard to know what kind of crowds and sales to expect, since it's the first holiday shopping season at the outlets, but that she hoped for a turnout similar to that of the shops' opening weekend.
"I'm thrilled with the enthusiastic response from shoppers," she said. "We just really want to be part of their holiday experience."
The outlets were part of the holiday for the Koczans, who arrived at the shops at 11 p.m. Thursday and started their night by waiting in a line to enter the Coach outlet store.
The wait wasn't too long, Kelly Koczan said, and she was pleased to see that there were no major waits at any of the other stores at which she shopped Friday morning.
There were no traffic issues early Friday, either, although there were plenty of Merrimack police officers and security officials on hand to help with additional shoppers later in the day.
But while the crowds may not have been overwhelming for frequent Black Friday shoppers, for first-time early morning shopper Chrissy Macoul, of Windham, who was trying on boots at Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th outlet store around 1 a.m., they were surprising.
"I'm exhausted," she said, laughing. "I wanted to see all the hype about Black Friday, but I can't believe how many people come out and are wide awake."
There were plenty of people awake around the region early Friday.
At Best Buy on Daniel Webster Highway, crowds struggled to find parking and waited in long lines for TVs, digital cameras and computers throughout Thursday night and early Friday morning.
By about 3 a.m. Friday, shoppers were still filing out with huge boxes carrying large-screen TVs and sifting through bins of DVDs, Blu-ray movies and video games.
An area full of home theater systems and similar devices was overflowing with customers, armed with Best Buy advertisements and smartphones.
Paul Moody, 19, Xavier Vines, 18, and Cheiston Toro, 21, all of Lowell, Mass., were shopping in the Gate City for a home theater system. They said they've seen worse crowds in other areas of the country where they've gone Black Friday shopping, but that it still wasn't easy getting around Friday morning.
"It took us 30 minutes to park," Moody said.
The young men were buying plenty of things for themselves, but were also hoping to get most of their holiday shopping done Friday. They said they were tired, shopping on little to no sleep, but that they'd rather stay up and shop soon after Thanksgiving festivities than wake up early Friday.
At the Pheasant Lane Mall, it was clear many shoppers felt the same way.
The parking lots were filling up quickly around 4 a.m. Friday as shoppers filled the stores looking for deals. The mall opened at midnight, and nearly all retailers opened at that time or earlier, such as Target and Sears.
Mall General Manager Vin Cosco said the mall didn't open officially until 4 a.m. last year, although many stores opened at midnight. Retailers who didn't felt like they missed out, he said.
"It's clear this year that a lot of people finished dinner, watched the Patriots game and then came shopping," he said.
Two of those shoppers were brother and sister Brian Caldwell, of Billerica, Mass., and Tamara Benitez, visiting from Ohio, who joined several other members of their family shopping early Friday.
"We're up anyway; this just extends the time that we get to spend together," Caldwell said.
Still, the family said they aren't sure how they feel about the fact that Black Friday has been going earlier into Thanksgiving Day.
"It's just all about the marketing," Caldwell said.
And while many shoppers around the country and the region spoke out against the earlier opening times in the days leading up to Black Friday, Cosco said the crowds are always biggest when the doors open. And that was no different this year.
Hundreds of people rushed through the doors to get to Victoria Secrets deals, he said, and Target had a line that wrapped around a large portion of the mall before it opened its doors Thursday.
It's all a good sign for the rest of the holiday shopping season, he said.
"It's huge. It's the kickoff of the holiday shopping season," he said of Black Friday. "It really signals what the rest of the season is going to be like. Those that have a good Black Friday weekend will roll that through the rest of the season."
Danielle Curtis can be reached at 594-6557 or dcurtis@nashua telegraph.com. Also, follow Curtis on Twitter (Telegraph_DC).
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