AUBURN — After a 21-hour wait, and after turning down $1,300 from a stranger to buy his place in line, Joel Stubbs walked out of GameStop just after 7 a.m. with a new PlayStation 5.

He went home, played and crashed.

“He’s a big gamer,” said mom Tricia Stubbs of Auburn, who helped him and two friends through the marathon wait with snacks Thursday and a coffee and doughnut run at 3:30 a.m. Friday.

“They were cold and tired and maybe a little delirious,” she said. “You know, that’s what moms do.”

Joel Stubbs leaves Game Stop in Auburn with a PlayStation 5 shortly after the store opened at 7 a.m. on Black Friday. The 2020 graduate of Edward Little High School got in line at 10 a.m. Thursday to be sure he would get one of only two PlayStation 5s that the store had to sell. Stubbs was offered $1,300 cash for his first-in-line ticket. “I said no,” Stubbs said. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Black Friday kicked off later this year in Auburn with many retailers having spread deals out over weeks to avoid drawing large crowds in the pandemic. Doors opened at 5 a.m. at Walmart, Kohl’s and JCPenney, and even later at GameStop, with enthusiastic but markedly fewer shoppers.

In last year’s bitter cold, the first people in line for Black Friday at Walmart arrived 6½ hours early and it took more than five minutes for hundreds to stream through the doors at midnight.

Shopping carts were used at Walmart in Auburn on Friday to make sure those in line were socially distanced. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

This year, Michelle Senence of Lewiston arrived at Walmart at midnight with her daughter and daughter-in-law. The trio sat in their warm car until 3:45 a.m., when other people started to get out of their warm cars.

“Years past, we waited six hours outside and it was freezing out,” Senence said. “This was definitely different. The lines were next to nothing. There were only 40 people in Walmart when we went in, there was nobody.”

All three of them were shopping for toys for kids and grandkids.

“It’s tradition, we do it every year, no matter how cold it is,” Senence said. “I had just gotten over COVID a few weeks ago, so I was pretty happy I was still about to go. We’ll do it again next year. Hopefully things will be back to normal by then.”

Sharon Larose, left, and Eden Gagne, both of Auburn, wait for Kohl’s in Auburn to open on Black Friday. “We got here at 4 a.m. because we couldn’t sleep,” Larose said. “We were so excited.” Toys for Larose’s four children and Gagne’s child were on the shopping list. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Sharon Larose of Auburn said she was driven by tradition, too. She and friend Eden Gagne of Auburn shop Black Friday together every year. She’d grabbed some early deals online but didn’t want to do it all that way.

They were in line at Kohl’s at 4 a.m., both after toys and clothes.

“It was so little, maybe eight people in line,” Larose said. “It was fun. It’s different than last year, because of COVID. I think people are worried.”

Nationally, holiday sales are forecast by the National Retail Federation to be up 3.6% to 5.2% this year over 2019.

Curtis Picard, president and CEO of the Retail Association of Maine, said earlier this week he was encouraged by that, though Maine can be a tough state to forecast with possibility of unexpected bad weather.

Aaron Jellison arrived at Walmart at 2 a.m. with his eye on on-sale 68-inch nutcracker soldiers. His wife wanted eight of them for the Lewiston couple’s large outdoor holiday lights display but the store only had five, which may have ultimately been a good thing.

He fit one in his trunk, one in his backseat and three on his roof.

“I obviously brought my smallest vehicle and I should have brought my biggest vehicle,” he said. “But I got them home, safe and sound.”

Joel Stubbs, left, Jacob Hodgman, Sam Leighton and Idrif Bashir wait outside Game Stop in Auburn on Thursday afternoon. Stubbs got in line at 10 a.m. to be sure he could buy one of two PlayStation 5 game consoles the store had when the doors opened at 7 a.m Friday. Stubbs and Hodgman both bought the PlayStation 5. Leighton was one of the next nine customers who could purchase the Xbox Series X. Bashir had the option to buy an Xbox, but he had to give his ticket #4 away as the store was about to open because the person he had lined up to bring him $500 fell through. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Before pulling an all-nighter at GameStop, Stubbs said her son spent two weeks trying to find a PS5 and, after discovering the store would have at least two of the game systems, decided this was his best shot.

The friends brought chairs and blankets. Others made the wait in tents and sleeping bags.

“We brought over some snacks and I would sit in his seat and hold his spot and he would jump in the car and just warm up. He really, really wanted this system,” Stubbs said. By the time the doors opened, “he was really tired; I think it was a little surreal.”

Photographer Daryn Slover contributed to this report.

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