11th-hour buyers spring into action

Maryland Journal

December 25, 2006|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,Sun reporter

Yolonda Booker hadn't meant to wait until the last minute to buy her mother's Christmas gift. She'd already wrapped the foot and back massagers she had bought for her, as well as the shawl.

But for the woman who raised her and who takes care of her 10-year-old daughter, Aeriel, while she finishes her college courses, Booker decided she needed to give a little something more.

Yolonda and Aeriel found themselves in the Macy's handbag section at Towson Town Center yesterday afternoon, picking through Coach and Dooney & Bourke wristlets - tiny purses that have been hot sellers this holiday season.

"We thought we'd do something more for her, because she does for us all year," said Booker, who also picked out a $50 wristlet for herself. "We said, 'Let's go find something that we like, that we always buy.' And this is what we always buy."

The Bookers were in good company. Every nook of the mall, from specialty shops to the large department stores, seemed to be packed with last-minute shoppers.

Some had bought the bulk of their gifts and were just picking up a little something extra, like a bottle of perfume or a pair of comfy pajamas. Others sheepishly admitted that they had come with their whole list - between work and family obligations, they said, there simply hadn't been any time until now.

"I'm usually here two weeks out," said Eric Waldt, a retired police officer from Middletown. But Waldt said he had been helping a close friend whose husband had been sick, and there wasn't time to shop. He came to the mall straight from the man's funeral - the lone shopper in a dark suit and tie, and a contrast to those decked out in Christmas sweaters and Santa hats.

Waldt picked up a Scrabble game for his daughter at Barnes & Noble, then headed to the Macy's Estee Lauder counter for his mother's gift. The last stop before Christmas dinner would be a jewelry store, where he was planning to buy his girlfriend "a ring of some kind."

In addition to the wristlets, the most popular last-minute Christmas gifts this season have been cosmetics, men's sportswear and luxury items such as jewelry, according to Macy's manager Karen Messick. She wasn't surprised to see large crowds just hours before Christmas Eve dinner.

"Christmas Eve is usually pretty crowded. You can count on having some traffic," Messick said.

Fortunately, her Macy's store didn't have that picked-over look. Shelves were full, the crowds polite and many of the popular gifts, such as perfume or makeup kits, came packaged in pretty boxes with ribbons.

The same could not be said about the Black & Decker kiosk in the mall. The AutoWrench, a $30 tool that automatically adjusts itself at the touch of a button, was sold out yesterday.

Jeff Zimmerman broke the bad news to customers from his perch behind the kiosk. The fact that he was wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers' Santa hat on what was also game day for his favorite team, against the Baltimore Ravens, did not make the news go down any easier for his would-be customers.

"We don't have any, Lowe's doesn't have any, and Home Depot doesn't have any. No one has any," said Zimmerman, who estimated he had sold about 1,000 of the wrenches since holiday shopping officially began in November.

For some, waiting until the last minute was a blessing in disguise. Willis Williams said he had planned to buy his 22-year-old daughter Sparkle a computer case. But when he picked her up from the airport this weekend, he saw she had bought one for herself. So he was at the Mac store in Towson picking out an iPod for her.

Asked why he was buying his wife's Christmas present at the last minute, Bill Tabrisky had a simple explanation.

"I have a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old," the Park School math teacher said as he waited in line to buy gourmet muffin mix and fancy dips at a Harry & David store.

Tabrisky said he was pretty sure his wife wouldn't be hurt that he waited so long to shop. "When I get home, I'll look after the boys, and then she'll go out and finish her shopping," he said.

For others, the 11th-hour gift run has become something of a tradition.

Ken Mason said he has taken his daughter, Jennifer Moskos, to buy her mother's Christmas present on Dec. 24 for more than two decades. Mason figured the tradition started because he had procrastinated, but now their last-minute shopping is well-planned and even relaxing, he said.

They have lunch together - food court Chinese for her, a hot dog for him. And they never use a list, preferring instead to buy what strikes their fancy. This year, it was perfume, jewelry and a new bathrobe.

"I live in fear that, on the 22nd or the 23rd, I'm going to break my leg, and she's going to get nothing for Christmas," Mason said of his wife. "But every year, we keep gambling."

rona.kobell@baltsun.com

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