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    Friday, April 19, 2024

    Brisk Black Friday traffic belies reports of economic gloom

    People shop on Black Friday, Nov. 24, 2023, at Olde Mistick Village in Mystic. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    People leave the Kitch kitchen store at Olde Mistick Village in Mystic on Black Friday on Nov. 24, 2023. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Around some of the region’s retailers, Black Friday was anything but dark.

    For one thing, it was unseasonably balmy. For another, consumers had shown up in droves, gobbling up parking spaces and on-sale merchandise with abandon. From Costco in East Lyme to Waterford Commons to Olde Mistick Village and the boutiques lining downtown Mystic’s West Main Street, business was booming.

    To an observer, it felt festive, as if people were happy to be spending and recent headlines about inflation and high interest rates be damned.

    Might shopping be good for the soul?

    “For me, it’s just about hanging with family and friends, not so much the shopping,” said Jerry DiSalvo, a Stamford man who was walking along one of the paths that winds through Olde Mistick Village, the outdoor shopping center off Exit 90 of Interstate 95.

    He and his wife Teresa were making their second Black Friday visit to the village.

    “We just want to be in a Hallmark movie,” Teresa said. “We love the laid-back, old-fashioned Christmas spirit here. With everything going on in the world, this feels safe, like a haven.”

    A short distance away, Kitch, a kitchen and cooking store in the village, had attracted a crowd. On the second floor, owners Dan and Lynne Price were working in their office.

    “I think we’ll be up from last year,” Dan said shortly before noon. “People are really supporting small businesses, I’m happy to say. What you see compared to a lot of what you hear (about economic conditions) is different.”

    For stores like Kitch and others in the village and in downtown Mystic, the next day, Small Business Saturday, promised greater proceeds than Friday. And then there’s next week’s Cyber Monday, the season’s big online shopping event, when big-box retailers and others offer deals on their websites and other virtual platforms.

    “We don’t talk about that,” Dan Price said of Cyber Monday, smiling.

    In downtown Mystic, Michelle Gemma, owner of the Mystic Army Navy store, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in September, said she, too, expected this year’s Black Friday to exceed the success of last year’s. But then, she said, the day is always a success for downtown merchants.

    “I don’t remember ever having a bad one,” Gemma said of Black Friday. “It’s really a big family day, the day after Thanksgiving. People and families are out enjoying each other and they just happen to go shopping. The bigger day is tomorrow (Small Business Saturday).”

    Over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, downtown Mystic typically benefits from an influx of out-of-towners, including families visiting cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London or sailors stationed at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, Gemma said.

    A lot of patrons staying at the region’s casinos also make daytime shopping excursions to Mystic, she added.

    Nationally, forecasters had predicted this Black Friday might be the biggest ever, with most of the spending lavished on clothing and electronics, as is usually the case. The late-morning scene at the Best Buy store in Waterford Commons suggested the prophecy would hold up.

    Men directed traffic in and out of the store’s parking lot, with vehicles idling as their drivers waited for spaces to open up.

    “My wife’s shopping,” a Norwich man who declined to give his name said as he waited for his wife to drive up to the curb in front of the store. “I’m buying ― meaning paying.”

    A Best Buy employee helped him load a TV the couple had bought for their grandson.

    b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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