(NECN: Peter Howe, Braintree, Mass.) - It may be 18 days until the shopping kickoff known as Black Friday -- or if you think of Christmas in religious terms, 20 days until the beginning of Advent. But at malls like the South Shore Plaza here, holiday shopping season has arrived in full force.
More and more, retailers aren't waiting for Black Friday, or Cyber Monday, or Thanksgiving, or even Veterans Day to get their holiday shopping promotions started.
Monday found Stacey Warsofsky of Quincy, Mass., visiting a mall Santa Claus at the Braintree mall with her two young boys. "Of course they wanted to come see him. It's never too early especially when you're young.''
Laurel Sibert, a top marketing executive with Simon Malls, which runs the South Shore Plaza and most big malls in Southeastern New England, said this is the new normal. "The dcor goes up usually after Halloween. Santa arrives in the first week of November and stays right up until Christmas Eve,'' Sibert said.
Between the aggressive push to get holiday shopping started in early November, and the economy possibly finally beginning to turn around, many retail experts think this could be the year holiday spending finally ticks upward after three years of what are widely counted as consecutive declines. (The National Retail Federation is forecasting a 2.3 percent increase, compared to 0.4 percent last year, and a 3.9 percent drop in November-December 2008.)
""We're going to be up over the holiday season of 2009" is the confident prediction of Jon B. Hurst, CEO of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. It will take a while to get back to the peak spending levels of 2006, Hurst said, but over the next month and a half, "What we're looking to do is kind of crawl our way back to about where we were in 2008.''
Laurel Sibert's confident the early start won't dim the excitement of November 26, the day after Thanksgiving, when traditionally shoppers head out in search of screaming bargains. This year it falls as early as it can on the calendar, leaving shoppers plenty of time to procrastinate between Black Friday and Christmas Eve if they are so inclined.
"Black Friday is traditional, and it's sort of a pilgrimmage for those hard core shoppers, and I think they'll come out in droves. Most of our malls are opening at five a.m. on Black Friday.''
Stacey Warsofsky's confident she and her boys won't be sick of Christmas by the time it finally comes. "It's awesome, especially when you have little ones. It couldn't be better.''
And thinking ecumenically, one other interesting factor, Hanukkah starts very early this year, December 1, and so that will mean many people of the Jewish faith shop for gifts for that eight-day festival much earlier than usual.
Already Monday, we learned Toys R Us plans to put 1,000 toys on sale from now until November 24, and Wal-Mart is already cutting prices to try to undercut Target for the title of "low-cost retailer" for Holiday Season 2010.
With videographer John J. Hammann