Christmas Eve delay pays off

Last-minute shoppers find some surprises

December 25, 2007|By From staff reports

It was a Christmas Eve where, at least in some parts, procrastinating paid off in a big way.

The day started with an unexpected shipment of 67 Nintendo Wii game systems -- the most sought-after, but hardest-to-find, item of the year -- arriving at Best Buy in White Marsh.

General Manager Dave Wolf chose not to display the game systems to avoid a mob scene. Instead employees walked around the store telling people they were available.

FOR THE RECORD - A photo caption in Tuesday's business section, accompanying an article about last-minute Christmas Eve shopping, misspelled the name of Simon Akama, a customer service manager at the Columbia Palace Giant.
The Sun regrets the error.

Most customers had already given up hope that there would be any available for Christmas and thought he was joking when he said they had them.

"Can I ask a stupid question? Do you have any Wii's?" one woman asked him.

"What would you do if I said I had one?" he asked. "Would you get on the microphone and say Best Buy is the best store ever?"

"You're lying," she exclaimed when he said he had one. A minute later she was hugging him and offering to bring him crab cakes.

Last-minute shoppers are an important part of the holiday business for retailers.

Shoppers have a variety of reasons for waiting so late. Some are natural procrastinators. Others get busy and let time pass. Others wait for the bargains.

This year, it was even more important and busy because it was on a Monday. Many companies gave their employees yesterday off -- to do the real work of the day.

Last-minute tree

The couple who stopped in Greenfields Nursery in Baltimore yesterday morning had realized just in time they'd better get a Christmas tree -- pronto.

They told General Manager Peter Bieneman that their kids, who usually handled tree-buying but were not yet home from college, would still expect a Christmas tree when they did arrive.

Luckily for them, Greenfields still had a few trees left on the day before Christmas. And not the spindly "Charlie Brown Christmas" variety. They were full and tall, Douglas and Fraser firs beckoning from the busy intersection of Falls Road and Northern Parkway.

Midday on Christmas Eve, Bieneman still had hope for their future.

"I'd like to see these trees find a home," he said, noting the deeply discounted prices.

But most customers were on the hunt for anything but trees. An elderly man scooped up four potted Christmas mini roses (half price) to bring to a holiday gathering. A father and his kids bought a tree stand for the tree that wasn't up yet. Another man and his son spent about three seconds selecting an ornament, then explained the lack of browsing by saying, "We're guys."

In past years on Christmas Eve, some customer usually shows up looking for a Christmas tree around 4 p.m., just as Bieneman is closing. If that didn't happen, he said, he'd haul the remaining trees out to the parking lot and leave them -- a reward for the true procrastinators.

Lorraine Mirabella

Holiday appetites

The maraschino cherries!

Or maybe it was those mini marshmallows?

Or was it the nutmeg?

It was definitely the one -- or 12 -- things you forgot to get for Christmas dinner.

And it was compelling hundreds of people to brave the Columbia Giant off Centre Park Drive yesterday, where customer service manager Simon Akama guarded his post like a goalie.

"This is my territory right here," he said, sweeping his arms wide to indicate the walkway between the grocery aisles and the registers. He started left, doubled back to the right and twirled on his heel, pointing out the way -- more likely than not -- to the maraschino cherries.

Every register was manned and every shelf stocked. The store manager was on high alert, the Salvation Army bell ringer listened to a Tina Marie jazz CD out front, and the checkers wore antlers and ornament earrings.

And the shoppers -- oh the shoppers! -- were muttering to themselves, trying to remember what else they forgot.

Baltimore public defender Allison Pierce needed a new brownie pan; hers already has a lasagna in it. Chris Condon was shopping for her daughter, whose three-item list was thus: Splenda, salsa, fire logs. And Beverly Byron, with college-student son David along, was after "extra dinner stuff," having invited a woman she knows from jazzercise to join her.

"I didn't want her to be alone," Byron said.

Tricia Bishop

Making deliveries

Marcus Haines, 18, rose early to accompany a driver on one of UPS' routes to downtown Baltimore. He's clocked in close to 40 hours overtime this past week, loading tractor-trailers with packages by night. Some days, he's only slept three hours between shifts.

But he'll catch up on sleep today.

"I might not even wake up early to open gifts," said Haines, a New Era Academy graduate who lives near Forest Park in Baltimore.

The UPS warehouse in Baltimore nearly doubles its normal work force of 500 this time of year. About 200 seasonal helpers ride alongside the drivers of those ubiquitous brown trucks, and another 150 additional workers sort and load packages, employee relations manager Dominic Jordon said.

Stacks of brown cardboard boxes filled the site. There were computers and high-definition TVs, lots of them, and perishable items such as Omaha steaks.

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