Early to rise on the hunt for bargains in Lee

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LEE, Mass. - No one wore pajamas.

Traffic jams were non-existent, and there were hardly any lines in front of the stores.

Yet, the parking lot at the Lee Premium Outlets filled up earlier than it usually does on Black Friday. For the first time in nine years, the 60-story outlet mall didn't open at midnight for Black Friday shopping.

But lured by bargains - at least one store was offering merchandise at an 80 percent discount - shoppers still flocked to the outlets, most of which opened at 6 a.m.

"We had a steady flow from quarter of five until we opened," said Premium Outlets spokeswoman Heidi Cornwell. Seven outlet stores opened at 5 a.m., an hour earlier than the rest of the shopping complex. "They weren't backing up the [Mass] Pike. That trend happens later in the day."

Shoppers of all ages could be spotted walking through the outdoor shopping complex, but everyone was courteous.

"It's a different type of shopper," Cornwell said. "At midnight openings in the past few years when it was a novelty what you predominately saw at midnight was the young, college-age shopper because it was all about social.

"The 6 a.m. shopper is more of a brand-based shopper," she said. "Younger moms with kids who have babies that have been up since 4 a.m. Couples who have the day off. ...You don't have the big screen TVs here."

Also noticeable at the Premium Outlets on Friday was the number of family members who shopped in groups. Many of them came from New York state, some to take advantage of no tax on clothing items in Massachusetts.

Nora Killallen, Jackie Postulka, Cassie Curry and Katie Boardwell came from Saratoga, N.Y., which is less than an hour from another outlet mall in Lake George. Postulka said the group like the selection of stores better in Lee than at Lake George, and that the parking situation is better in the Berkshires. They got up at 4:30 a.m. to arrive in Lee at 6 a.m.

"It was pretty quiet," Killallen said. "It's a family tradition," said Sherry Haddad, of Great Barrington, the only Berkshire resident in a family group of 11 members who live mostly in Ghent, N.Y. "We decorated our shopping carts."

Tammy Barnard, of Ghent liked the 6 a.m. starting time.

"It's light out," she said. "It's easier for all of us to be together."

The group was spotted fueling up at two tables in the food court at 10 a.m. They were apparently gathering strength for another round of shopping.

"We're going to shop until we drop or run out of money," said Cindy Kozel, of Ghent.

Four generations of another family - great grandmother, grandmother, future daughter-in-law and great-granddaughter, also made the rounds.

"This is the first time we've done it with all four of us," said Victoria Guy, the grandmother, who lives in Ashley Falls. "We were cooped up in the kitchen yesterday."

Bob Hutchinson, Mike Chimienti and Mike Dado, who all live in Queens, N.Y., were in one of the few all-male groups of shoppers. The reason, they said: Their wives were shopping elsewhere in the complex.

"Hopefully, we'll meet them tonight at dinner," said Hutchinson, who said he and his wife travel to the Berkshires annually on Thanksgiving to stay at Cranwell Spa & Golf Resort in Lenox and shop.

"I would never shop on Black Friday at home," he said. "It's a zoo. People maul you. It's crazy."

Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at 413 496-6224. .


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