It was T-minus 48 hours and counting when Samuel Dobrick of Evans came to Augusta Mall on Wednesday afternoon.
He had bypassed the overflowing cars squeezed into the parking spaces and found a spot close to the mall. Mr. Dobrick was going Christmas shopping. He wasn't there to pick up a few items he had forgotten on his list -- Mr. Dobrick hadn't even begun yet.
In the grand tradition of last-minute holiday shopping, Mr. Dobrick was one of many shoppers who packed area malls Wednesday, anxious to complete their holiday shopping lists.
"If it wasn't for last-minute shopping, there wouldn't be many people getting gifts, and retailers wouldn't be so happy," said Scott Krugman, spokesman for the National Retail Federation.
Mr. Krugman said the bulk of Christmas shopping occurs the weekend before Christmas. However, he said that because Christmas falls on a Saturday this year, many people are waiting until today or even Friday to finish their shopping.
That's what Jonathan Bloodsow of Augusta did. Mr. Bloodsow took the day off from work Wednesday to begin his Christmas shopping.
"I always wait until the last minute," he said. "I haven't bought a single present yet this year, but I'm not worried. I still have two days."
That's the attitude that keeps Dillard's department store busy, general manager Nick Amato said. "A lot of men come in the last three days to get their shopping done," he said.
According to Mr. Amato, last-minute gift items that sell well in his store are cosmetics, lingerie and perfume.
Daniel Stoke of Evans was in the fragrance department of Macy's looking for a gift for his girlfriend.
"To be honest, I just want to get a gift that is already wrapped and all I have to do is hand it to her," he said. "The less hassle the better."
But to some people, such as Joyce Martin of Hiram, Ga., the last-minute chaos of Christmas shopping is amusing.
"It's part of the fun of Christmas," she said. "If you get it all done a month ahead of time, you miss all the fun."
This year, many people decided to dodge the malls and opted to shop online.
According to Mr. Krugman, holiday online sales for 1999 have increased by 50 percent from last year. There were nearly $3 billion in online sales last holiday season, compared to an estimated $6 billion this year.
Mr. Krugman warns, however, that those who still have presents to buy are probably not going to get much help from the Internet.
"Online shopping is kind of like shopping by catalog," he said. "Right now the only hope procrastinators have is the traditional source of retail."
Mr. Krugman said retailers this year have been doing quite well. He expects a 6.5 percent increase in holiday retail, which he attributes to the economy.
People may have more money to spend, but there are still some who prefer last-minute shopping, said Ernie Lamb, a sales associate for Zales jewelry store at Augusta Mall.
"People are going to wait for the last possible minute so they can get the best price," she said.
That's an idea that James Malone of Augusta said he embraces.
"Look, the point of Christmas is not to worry about when or where you bought the presents," he said. "It's about the thought behind them, and my girlfriend should know how much I care about her. I am here, two days before Christmas at the most hectic place in Augusta -- buying her a present."
Reach Barnini Chakraborty at (706) 823-3332 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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