Donald S. Poole Jr. is a retailer's dream shopper.
Despite forecasts of economic doom and gloom, Poole, of Silver Run, said he and his wife are spending the same amount of money on presents that they did last year.
While some shoppers are following suit, many have cut back, forcing retailers to start sales even before Santa heads back to the North Pole.
"Customers know (that) if there's a lot of merchandise in the stores they can hold out for a markdown," said Mary H. Carson, manager of Sears Roebuck & Co. in Cranberry Mall in Westminster.
County retailers say they hope shoppers take to the stores this weekend, the last before Christmas, to help boost sales.
Carson was looking for cold weather, which would prompt people to buy coats, flannel shirts and car batteries.
"People really don't buy until they have a need. The warm weather really has been a detriment to sales," she said.
In an effort to attract reluctant spenders, Sears slashed prices on clothing in all its stores on Dec. 7, Carson said. The 20 percent to 40 percent discounts have boosted sales above last year's levels for December, she said, adding that company policy prevents her from saying how much sales have increased.
Poole, who was shopping last week on Main Street in Westminster, said he and his wife, Kathryn, saved money to buy presents this year with a Christmas club bank account.
While they're not spending less, they are being careful, he said.
"I'm just kind of watching and waiting" to see how events in the Persian Gulf affect the economy, said Poole, a 27-year-old attorney. "We're trying to watch our dollars a little more than we used to."
That strategy includes keeping credit cards out of reach.
"This is a cash Christmas," he said.
In Eldersburg, Peebles Department Store is sticking to its usual holiday sale schedule and is doing well, manager Catherine E. Myers said.
"Our sales are going as planned," she said.
Peebles, part of a 50-store chain, opened in the Carrolltowne Mall the last week of October and has been meeting its sales goals.
"We're where we expect to be," Myers said.
Companywide sales are "flat," she said. In each of the past 10 years, the Virginia-based company has seen sales increase by about 15 percent.
This year, sales moved up only about 4 percent.
People are waiting longer to buy holiday presents and decorations this year, Myers said.
"There's just an uneasiness. I'm not sure what they're waiting for," she said.
Barb Schmid of Westminster, who was shopping with her two young children at Cranberry Mall one day last week, said she is spending about 20 percent less this year on presents.
"Everything seems to be a little more expensive," she said.
At Ames Department Store in Hampstead, manager George G. Bracken said sales are up about 5 percent over last year, partly because the pool of shoppers continues to increase as more people move into the area.
The store is well-stocked with inventory from some of the 221 Ames stores that closed earlier this year after the company reorganized in U.S.
Bankruptcy Court, Bracken said.
On Nov. 16, all Ames stores ran a special 20 percent-off sale, and the company is planning a similar sale today, he said.
In downtown Westminster, smaller merchants don't have the leeway to slash prices because they don't have as much inventory, said Shane White, president of the Westminster Business and Professional Association and owner of two businesses on Main Street.
Sales at her bicycle and antique shops are down about 10 percent from last year, as are sales at some other downtown shops, White said.
A holiday shopping season kickoff sponsored by the association on Dec. 1 brought a lot of out-of-town shoppers to the city, she said. On a typical Saturday, she said 200 people will pass through her stores; that day she had about 400.
The association probably will sponsor more events like Christmas on Olde Main Street to attract shoppers throughout the year, White said.
Although by last week, she hadn't started her holiday shopping, White said she planned to spend about 25 percent less than she did last year.
"I'm buying more things that are necessary items. I'm buying more clothing this year," she said.