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Malls consider midnight openings

Early risers taking advantage of 6 a.m. shopping in Natick on Black Friday in 2007 waited in line outside a Game Stop.

Mark Wilson/Globe Staff/File 2007

Early risers taking advantage of 6 a.m. shopping in Natick on Black Friday in 2007 waited in line outside a Game Stop.

Black Friday shopping madness may kick off earlier this year in the suburbs, with the owner of four large malls along the Route 128 corridor weighing plans to open just after midnight the day after Thanksgiving.

Northshore Mall in Peabody, the Burlington Mall, the Mall at Chestnut Hill in Newton, and South Shore Plaza in Braintree may open their doors at 12:01 a.m. as Simon Property Group considers shifting to earlier Black Friday openings across the country, according to Lisa Bell, a local Simon spokeswoman from Regan Communications. Last year, the four local malls opened at 4 a.m.

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While no official announcement has been made, Bell said, “it is very much under consideration.” Simon intends to give local officials a heads up about its plans, she said.

The prospect of an earlier start to the Christmas shopping season along Route 128 comes as Wrentham officials consider ending the “Midnight Madness” tradition at another Simon-owned mall, Wrentham Village Premium Outlets. This year’s event remains in doubt because the town and the mall have been unable to resolve a dispute over installing security cameras at the outlets.

Officials in Burlington and Braintree say they are not concerned about an influx of early morning, post-Thanksgiving shoppers.

Newton and Peabody officials could not be reached for comment.

The sprawling Burlington Mall is right off the highway and away from the town’s residential areas, said Town Administrator John Petrin. “People are getting an opportunity to shop early one day a year – it’s not a concern,” he said.

‘You have these people who are crazy to shop that early in the morning, and they do.’

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Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan said Simon officials informed him of the pending plans during talks between city officials and the company to have police install eight security cameras covering the mall’s common areas. Four years ago, Braintree police opened a substation at the mall, which was the result of two years of talks, he said.

Sullivan said he has no concerns about security for the midnight opening. In fact, the camera installations were not timed with the early Black Friday opening; the agreement called for the cameras to be installed by the end of the year.

Sullivan said he is not a fan of midnight shopping, but he has no plans – or power – to prevent the midnight opening.

The Braintree mayor said his concerns are more about fairness to mall and store employees who wind up having to work the graveyard shift after Thanksgiving Day.

“I understand that consumers need choices and Black Friday is important for retailers, but I do think about the families and the employees who are asked to work at midnight on a holiday,” Sullivan said.

Meanwhile, in Natick, police say they also have had no problem with Black Friday crowds and town officials are even laying out the welcome mat for shoppers if Wrentham decides to bar a midnight opening.

“We’re known for our retail hub and economic development, so we have no problem welcoming shoppers,” said Paul Joseph, chairman of Natick’s Board of Selectmen.

Simon’s budding Black Friday plan is just the latest in a years-long trend that has seen earlier and earlier mall and store openings across suburban Boston.

A number of larger, individual stores have already made it a practice.

“I have been seeing stores open at twelve o’clock at various places,” Petrin said. “You have these people who are crazy to shop that early in the morning, and they do.”

The retail sector has struggled over the past few years amid the economic downturn, with malls and stores coming to depend on a strong showing on Black Friday to kick off the crucial holiday shopping season.

While the early openings are expected to excite early-bird shoppers, the Braintree mayor won’t be among them.

“We live in a 24-hour cycle, but I am a bit old-fashioned,” Sullivan said. “To me it’s a bit crazy – I can tell you I won’t be shopping.”

Globe correspondent Jaclyn Reiss contributed to this report. Scott Van Voorhis can be reached at sbvanvoorhis@hotmail.com.
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