Shoppers brave foul weather ahead of holiday


LEWISTON — The lady’s name was Nancy and she never expected to be out at the stores just three days before Christmas.

“I thought I was all done,” she said, brushing the snow off her car outside Shaw’s Supermarket in Lewiston. “I thought I had it all wrapped up.”

Wouldn’t you know it? On a Friday plagued by snow, mobs and slick roads, it occurred to Nancy that she still needed ingredients for her stuffed mushrooms. To get those ingredients, she had to drive a couple of miles on slushy roads and brave crowds of people clogging every store aisle.

Nancy got what she needed and made herself a vow.

“I’m not coming back,” she said.

We’ll see.

Dreadful weather joined forces with the usual last-minute Christmas panic to create a perfect storm of holiday shopping hysteria. The result: long lines, empty shelves and traffic that crawled along slick, slushy roads just about everywhere.

At some points during the day, checkout lines were seen snaking back into crowded aisles as shopping anxiety seized the populace: Who dared wait until Saturday when Saturday’s weather is expected to be even worse?

“It’s awful, isn’t it?” said Nancy. “My son is going to be driving in from Windham, so I’m going to worry. My husband is coming from Portland, so I’ll worry about that, too.”

Worry seemed to be the theme of the day as Friday’s heavy snow was expected to give way to freezing rain and ice Saturday.

“Gonna be messy,” the National Weather Service advised. “Take it slow.”

Easier said than done, weatherman.

Some tried to beat the weather by doing their shopping late Thursday night or early Friday morning. The trouble with that kind of plan? Legions of other desperate shoppers had the same idea.

“I think it’s worse than Black Friday shopping,” said Jessica Noel-Hutchinson, of Auburn. “At least on Black Friday people seem happier. Christmas and a snowstorm, people are crabby!”

Jessica would know. She was out in the stores Friday before the sun had a chance to rise.

“So Walmart wasn’t too bad at 6 a.m.,” she reported. “Mostly grannies and grandpas just poking around. The shelves were already looking bare, but the morning crew was busy stocking up. Now Hannaford on Spring Street — a madhouse. I stopped in for adult beverages around 9 a.m. and the checkout lines were huge and patience was scarce.”

Several shoppers reported it took longer to get in and out of parking lots than it did to do the actual shopping. And the throngs were more or less universal: Home Depot and Lowe’s were busy all day long as were the various dollar stores, where lines were said to be immense.

Reports of long checkout lines and frustrating traffic flowed in throughout the day. There seemed to be no way around it. If you wanted to finalize your holiday plans, you had to suck it up and brave the mobs.

Unless, of course, you could send someone else to do your errands.

“My heroic husband just returned from the Hannaford on Sabattus Street,” said Diane Fuller, of Lewiston, at about 2 p.m. “He said the store and parking lot are both packed. Traffic is bad and you’ll sit through several light cycles at a couple of points.”

Ralph Johnson of Dixfield reported on his snowy excursion to the stores around the same time.

“Three days before Christmas,” he wrote on Facebook, “and snow storm panic makes for the ultimate shopping experience.”

“Thank you for your sacrifice,” responded his wife, Nancy Townsend Johnson.

Ralph did his shopping in Farmington, which turned out to be no less frantic than the rest of the snow-covered region.

“In Farmington today there was nary a parking spot at Hannaford, Walmart or even Tractor Supply,” Johnson said. “To top it off, I wanted deer feed at Tractor Supply and they were out. Some guy with a sled and reindeer must have beaten me to it.”

In Turner, the relatively new Hannaford on Route 4 was a popular place throughout the day. Some shoppers reported the store was packed at about noon, with no empty parking spots to be found. Others described the scene more concisely, simply relating that Hannaford was “wicked busy” Friday afternoon.

The frenzy of shopping seemed to be an early-day phenomenon. By 5 p.m., after 5 inches of snow had fallen in Lewiston and surrounding towns, the volume of people at stores receded to almost-normal holiday levels. Lines at Hannaford, Shaw’s and Walmart were about four shoppers deep at the worst.

“It wasn’t bad at all,” said Nancy, outside the Lewiston Shaw’s and heading home to make her stuffed mushrooms. “I was in and out pretty quick.”

Lisa Garey of Lewiston reported big but manageable crowds at the Hannaford on Sabattus Street.

“Lots of people, but they were very well-staffed,” she said. “Slim pickin’s on the bacon, though.”

With many offices closed early Friday, either for the holidays or because of the weather, the evening commute was more or less uneventful. In and around Lewiston and Auburn, it began to look more like Christmastime and less like a zombie apocalypse.

Of course, Saturday is another day.

“Tis the season for lines,” said Jacqueline Violette of Lewiston. “Use your kindness and sense of humor or stay home.”

Kathleen Lannigan of Buckfield zips across the Walmart parking lot with her dogs Fanny Lou, left, and Stanley in Auburn on Friday. Walmart’s parking lot was packed and the checkout lines were long, according to customers leaving the store. A Salvation Army volunteer said it was even crazier at Walmart on Thursday night as shoppers tried to beat the snowstorm. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Traffic backs up along Turner Street in Auburn as police and fire crews investigate a minor car accident at the intersection of Court and Turner streets on Friday afternoon. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Salvation Army volunteer Marisol Jimenez of Lewiston braves the cold as she rings the bell outside Kmart in Auburn on Friday. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

“A little bit at a time” is the key to Christmas shopping, said Gordon Grant of Auburn as he left the Auburn Mall on Friday. The crossing guard at Walton Elementary School said he has been getting his Christmas gifts wrapped at the Edward Little High School Music Association Gift Wrap Booth for many years. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

The National Weather Service’s weekend forecast doesn’t bode well for last-minute shoppers.

Friday night: Snow before 2 a.m., then a chance of freezing drizzle. Low around 16. North wind 5 to 10 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90 percent. Little or no ice accumulation expected. New snow accumulation of 1 to 3 inches possible.

Saturday: A chance of freezing drizzle before 8 a.m., then sleet likely between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., then freezing rain after 9 a.m. High near 32. North wind around 5 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100 percent. New ice accumulation of 0.2 to 0.4 of an inch possible. New sleet accumulation of less than half an inch possible.

Saturday night: Freezing rain likely with a chance of freezing drizzle before 7 p.m., then a chance of freezing drizzle between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. Cloudy, then gradually becoming partly cloudy, with a low around 25. Calm wind becoming northwest around 5 mph after midnight. Chance of precipitation is 60 percent.

Sunday: Partly sunny, with a high near 32. Northwest wind 5 to 10 mph.