Warwick’s population is expected to soar temporarily when as many as a quarter of million people pass through during the Thanksgiving holiday, Police Major Raymond Gallucci predicted yesterday.
And don’t expect the city – actually the Route 2 retail shopping corridor – to be any quieter tonight either.
Gallucci said a combination of factors are driving the influx of people, including Black Friday bargains, heavier than usual traffic at the airport, weekend hockey tournaments at Thayer Arena and those coming to celebrate Thanksgiving with their families.
“We’ve never had this many [stores] open as early as this,” Gallucci said, from Ocean State Job Lot to Macy’s to other retailers at the Warwick Mall that will be opening their doors at midnight today. Usually, the Black Friday shopping spree starts at 4 or 5 a.m., but now it’s being rolled back to the stroke of midnight at 36 stores in Warwick. The bulk of the stores are in the Warwick Mall.
Gallucci said starting at 9 p.m. police would be looking to ensure shopping is orderly and that traffic runs smoothly. He said police have taken a “more proactive approach” and, in addition to 27 detail officers for various retailers, police would have their prisoner transport van on the road, to accommodate those who become unruly in their pursuit of a bargain or a place in line.
“It’s more of a deterrent than anything,” said Gallucci.
Starting at 7 a.m. Friday, five officers on motorcycles will be assigned to traffic control. With a forecast for sun and temperatures in the 50s, Gallucci anticipates the roads will be “packed.”
To expedite the rush to pull in shoppers, police have arranged for retailers to electronically apply for and receive permits to open at midnight. There is no fee for the permits that exempts businesses from a “panic button,” which is usually required for outlets, such as coffee shops, to stay open after midnight.
Police licensing clerk William LaGasse was issuing permits as recently as yesterday morning.
“We’re business-friendly,” said Gallucci.
Rhode Island Airport Corporation CEO Kevin Dillon, who was reached yesterday about noon, said the terminal was reasonably quiet for the moment, following a heavy flow of morning departures. Overall, he said, traffic that averages about 11,000 a day would increase by 10 percent. As the number of available seats regulates traffic, Dillon said what they are seeing are higher loads per aircraft, not more seats.
Contrary to the belief that this is the busiest time at the airport, Dillon said that usually happens in August with traffic from a combination of vacation, business and students returning to college.
Gallucci said he checked with Karen Jedson of the city’s economic and development department and learned that hotel occupancy for the holiday weekend is up. He believes some of it is due to the Warwick Junior Hockey Association tournaments being played at Thayer Arena.
As for doing his own shopping, Gallucci said he wouldn’t be on Route 2 over the holiday unless he has to be there in an official capacity.
LaGasse also shook his head.
“I don’t start until the 24th,” he said.
And that’s not today, but a month from now.