Originally created 11/27/03

Shoppers hunt for last-minute items



At the Kroger near National Hills on Washington Road on Wednesday, traffic crawled bumper to bumper, hauling delicacies for today's feasts and blocking lanes as pedestrians tried to squeeze through.

And that was inside the store.

"It's been very crazy. We do about three days' worth of business in one day," store manager Christian Brander said of the Wednesday shoppers who pushed carts loaded with last-minute fixings or today's meal.

After working in retail for 32 years, Mr. Brander said he knows what to expect.

"It was busy then like it is now," he said. "It's a challenge, but it's the same situation every year."

Amy Kruzinski split her time between the customer service counter and the register to help keep things running smoothly.

"I've seen plenty of turkeys, cranberry sauce, potatoes, ham and alcohol," she said. "It's been crazy all day."

Most shoppers admit they enter the chaos for goods each year, and one might wonder why they would wait until the day before to shop.

"I wait to get my vegetables the last day," said Gloria Laird, of Hephzibah, whose items included a bundle of collard greens. "They seem fresher."

Gus Estersque had a somewhat different reason.

"You want to know the truth?" he asked. "I shop on Wednesday because of the senior citizen discount."

For Bonnie Thurmond, of Augusta, the reason is simple.

"Because I don't want to store it in the fridge and look at it. I just want to get it and cook it," said Ms. Thurmond, who was taking her groceries and her family to Fripp Island to celebrate Thanksgiving at the beach. "I'm buying the whole meal today and I don't even need a list."

Ms. Thurmond's cart included cranberries, potatoes, oranges, stuffing and a 21-pound fresh turkey - the last of the large nonfrozen turkeys the store had.

"Frozen turkeys were popular up until today. Today most people are buying fresh ones because they won't have time to thaw out a frozen one," Mr. Brander said.

Of course, shopping at the last minute can pose some problems, as when Ms. Thurmond could not find Campbell's consomme soup on the shelf.

"It's just a shame. That's how I make my gravy," she said.

Leechonna Gillis avoids this problem by getting the majority of her things ahead of time.

"Oh, I have to. That way it gives me time to think about things I may have forgotten and the stores are still open so I can get the brands I like," she said.

Ms. Gillis will be making the whole meal for her family. Her forgotten items included chicken broth and a bottle of champagne "to chill out," she said.

"After I've struggled like a dog all day, this is my little reward."

The scene at the Publix on Washington Road in Evans was much like that at Kroger, filled with shoppers on a last-minute spree.

"This is the third time I've been to the store today for something else we've needed," said Columbia County Administrator Steve Szablewski. "I did most of the big shopping yesterday, but there always seems like there's something that gets forgotten, or something we didn't get enough of."

Deseree Cundiff, of Augusta, said the last-minute item she needed to pick up was a turkey.

"My friend got a coupon for a turkey and sent me out here to get it," said Ms. Cundiff, whose Thanksgiving plans were to throw a party for family and friends. "We've got 10 people to cook for and we couldn't go without a turkey."

Appling resident Ingrid Susser left the grocery store with her shopping cart loaded down with a turkey, canned sweet potatoes and fruit.

"I had to wait until I got paid before I could go shopping, so that's why I'm going at the last minute," said Mrs. Susser, a special education teacher in Taliaferro County.

"I'm pretty sure we got everything we need," she said. "I don't think I'll have to come back."

Although his store nearly sold out of turkey deep fryers, Mr. Brander said he kept from running out of the major things because of continuous deliveries from their warehouse in Atlanta. He said there are a lot of items such as turkey injectors and certain baking pans, marinades and spices that sit on the shelves and only get sold this time of year.

More last-minute shopping can be done at area stores today, and with Friday being the busiest shopping day of the year for department stores, Mr. Brander is expecting his staff will have the next few days to recover.

"Today the mall's dead, then after Thanksgiving we're dead," he said. "We go from high gear right down to low gear."

Staff Writer Donnie Fetter contributed to this report.

Reach C. Samantha McKevie at (706) 823-3552 or samantha.mckevie@augustachronicle.com.