Last-minute reasons for last-minute shopping

Shoppers scout the Quincy Mall for parking spaces, as local retailers see a surge of Christmas shopping Saturday. (H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)
Posted: Dec. 24, 2012 8:43 am Updated: Jan. 7, 2013 9:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Five-year-old Breana Schlipman sat perched on her father's shoulders inside the Bergner's store in the Quincy Mall on Sunday afternoon as she searched for a Christmas gift for her mother.

Her silver-sequined shoes shined almost as bright as the small gift in the hands of her father, Dave Schlipman. The young girl had initially protested his selection before offering a compromise.

"You buy this, and I'll buy this," he said, gesturing to something equally as bright. "Then they'll go together."

Breana had already helped her father pick out another gift for her mother a few weeks before. The pair had joined the rest of last-minute shoppers on a hunt for presents, but Dave had another goal in mind too.

"We're giving mommy some time to do some things," Dave said.

He said he and his wife had plenty to prepare before Christmas Eve night. Breana, meanwhile, seemed eager for Santa's arrival, but she'd already seen him earlier that morning when her father took her to Quincy Country Club. At the mention of the jolly old elf, the shy girl smiled.

"I saw him," she said. "He's already here!"

Nationally, Christmas shoppers thronged malls and pounced on discounts but apparently spent less this year, their spirits dampened by concerns about the economy and the aftermath of shootings and storms.

Marshal Cohen, chief research analyst at NPD Inc., a market research firm with a network of analysts at shopping centers nationwide, estimates customer traffic over the weekend was in line with the same time a year ago, but that shoppers seem to be spending less.

"There was this absence of joy for the holiday," Cohen said. "There was no Christmas spirit. There have been just too many distractions."

Shoppers are increasingly worried about the "fiscal cliff" deadline -- the possibility that a stalemate between Congress and the White House over the U.S. budget could trigger a series of tax increases and spending cuts starting Jan. 1

The recent Newtown, Conn., school shooting also dampened shoppers' spirits atop the fall's retail woes after Superstorm Sandy's passage up the East Coast.

The Saturday before Christmas was expected to be the second biggest sales day behind the Friday after Thanksgiving.

After a strong Black Friday weekend, the four-day weekend that starts on Thanksgiving, when sales rose 2.7 percent, the lull that usually follows has been even more pronounced. Sales fell 4.3 percent for the week ended Dec. 15, according to the latest figures from ShopperTrak, which counts foot traffic and its own proprietary sales numbers from 40,000 retail outlets across the country. On Wednesday, ShopperTrak cut its forecast for holiday spending down to 2.5 percent growth to $257.7 billion, from previous expectations of a 3.3 percent rise.

Karina Dionisio of Beardstown had bought five gifts at various stores in Quincy Mall by 2 p.m. Sunday. She said she had four more relatives to buy presents for before the end of the day, but she seemed hopeful.

"We're just looking for what we can find," she said.

She had wanted to shop earlier in the week, but Thursday's snowfall had prevented the 60-mile trip. After the storm, her home went without power for two days. Now, two days before Christmas, she walked through the mall hoping to find the perfect gifts.

Unlike Dionisio, Chad Robertson of Clarence, Mo., knew exactly what he wanted to buy his wife for Christmas. She had done most of the shopping for the family, but he still had to take care of her Christmas gifts. He had gone into the mall with a list and a mission, and fortunately Bath and Body Works had the gifts he wanted in stock -- but just barely.

"They just had two left," he said.

After weaving through the crowds at Bath and Body Works, he sought assistance from The Order of the Eastern Star wrapping center outside Bergner's.

"I'm not much of a wrapper," he said. "I'd waste a lot of paper."

There Cindy Tenhouse and four other volunteers wrapped Christmas gifts in exchange for charitable donations. As the women at the table tied bows and wrapped boxes, last-minute shoppers dropped off a collection of purchases including a trash can, throw blankets, winter coats, boots and serving trays.

"You name it, they bring it over," Tenhouse said. "When those flatscreen TVs came out, we even had people bring those down."

Steadily, the pile of paper and bows dwindled, while the section for gifts to be wrapped grew. The wrappers had seen a larger crowd on Saturday, but kept more than busy on Sunday helping out the last-minute crowd on the last shopping day before Christmas Eve.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.