Wrap it up

The pros advise: Don't dawdle over holiday shopping

The pros offer tips on holiday shopping

November 26, 2005|By SLOANE BROWN | SLOANE BROWN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Uh-oh. You swore this year it would be different. This year you would plan ahead. You would do all your holiday shopping before Thanksgiving. No more December crowds and last-minute gift-buying stress for you.

Yet here it is, same time of year, same old situation. The holiday rush has begun, and you're going to have to be part of it.

What's a non-online shopper to do? Why not ask the "experts" - those for whom shopping is a vocation - or an avocation. Someone like Nancy Green, who shops for a living.

Green is the co-founder and vice president of Charm City Concierge, a company that routinely shops for gifts - both corporate and personal - for clients.

"The No. 1 thing is to make a list: who you need to buy for, and any ideas of gifts you might have for them," Green says.

"Keep the list with you. As you buy the gifts, write that down. It keeps you organized and helps you remember what you bought [for whom]. And save the list for next year."

That way, you won't repeat gifts or get something too similar next time.

Then, there's the term that strikes fear into the heart of many a reluctant holiday shopper: "The Mall." Green has some strategies for making mall shopping a bit easier, too.

"Hit the malls first thing in the morning. Find out what their holiday hours are. The bigger anchor stores - like Hecht's and Macy's - may open earlier than smaller stores. They may open at 7 a.m. Go there first. Then go to the others in the mall when they open. Then you're leaving and going home by the time everyone else shows up."

If you work near downtown Baltimore, Green advises you walk to the Gallery (at Pratt and Calvert streets) during lunch hour or right after work. That way, you don't have to deal with mall parking lots. And there's one other big advantage there, Green says.

"The Gallery has a concierge desk. They know all the stores and products, and can help you with ideas."

One great time-saving idea, she suggests, is a mall gift card. It's good not only at every store in the mall, but often at other malls owned by the same company, both locally and nationally.

"One year, I knew my brother was going to Boston for a long weekend, so I got him a mall gift card," she says. "He used it to go out to dinner at a restaurant at Faneuil Hall."

Green Spring Valley resident Suzi Cordish offers a different mall shopping strategy: avoid them.

"I don't do it," says Cordish, a self-described inveterate shopper. She says she likes her gift shopping to have a "personal touch."

"It feels better when I'm in a store and see something and think that would be good for so-and-so," she says. "I do a lot of shopping at The Ivy Bookshop [in Lake Falls Village on Falls Road]. I give a lot of books. That's my favorite gift to give."

Making a list is also No. 1 one on her list. As it is for Caryl Siems, a self-described "brisk shopper."

"I know what I want, and I go get it. I don't browse around," says the Homeland resident. Siems has her holiday shopping down to a science - geography. She, too, avoids the malls, so she maps out her routes.

"I'll do a big, wide circle. Or I might do all the stores along Falls Road one day, and downtown another day. ... I plan big chunks of time where I can really plan my route. I also plan a fallback store on the route. Many times, if I'm really bunched for time, I'll call a store ahead and make sure they've got what I'm looking for."

Siems also employs another strategy: children and holiday party hosts first.

"I always start on [shopping for] the children first, because stores sell out quickly on things that are really popular," she says. "I always shop for hostess gifts early, too. That way, when I'm going to a holiday party, there's something I can always grab. ... I probably save my most last-minute things for my husband, because I never know what I'm going to get him."

It's more a philosophy than strategy, but Siems says she tries to buy at locally owned stores. Among her favorites: Maribou on Falls Road, Ruth Shaw in Cross Keys, Octavia in Pikesville and La Terra in Hampden.

That notion is important to Susan Dunn, too. Dunn is the publisher/editor of Paper Doll magazine - a new publication dedicated to Baltimore-area shopping. Unlike some, she enjoys the holiday scrum.

"I like the people. I like the buzz," she says. "The community's out there in force. If you're a shopper, it's a fun time to be out there."

Dunn suggests there are two ways to go:

You can plan a "blitz" - get all your shopping done in a couple of nights or one long day.

"Get a babysitter. Take your list and knock it all out. ... My husband and I do it together one night and get it all done." Then, she says, they go out to dinner and toast their achievement.

Or you can shop piecemeal - break it up over several days. Go to shops or malls between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. if possible. "It's a little easier on the psyche," Dunn notes.

And she echoes the other shoppers: Make your list. Keep to a budget. There are ways, she says, "to get around spending a gazillion dollars."

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