Last-minute holiday shoppers stung by snow storms

This may be it, the year I finally kick the habit of shopping in the nick of time.

It has long been my custom to spend the day retailers call Black Friday eating leftovers and poking fun at early-bird shoppers. Hard to believe it’s been nearly a month since I smugly wrote: “Don’t look for me at Alderwood mall when stores open at 6 a.m.”

This year — OK, every year — early shoppers can laugh all the way to the couch. This procrastinator will be out gripping the steering wheel, trying to polish off my gift list. That’s if stores stay open. Forecasts for these dwindling days before Christmas call for more snow, wild wind and more trouble for nick-of-time shoppers.

Even without weather woes, this shopping season between Thanksgiving and Christmas is one weekend shy of last year’s.

“We figure that this weekend is just going to be crazy,” said Linda Johannes, vice president and general manager of the Everett Mall. After snow first blanketed the area a week ago Saturday night, Johannes said last Sunday was a lighter shopping day than normal for mid-December.

“This has always been a late shopping market, and this weather is really pushing the envelope,” she said. “I’ve been doing my Norwegian sun dance,” Johannes said. “Christmas is sneaking up so fast.”

In downtown Everett, gift shop owner Judy Matheson said that after last weekend’s snow, she opened her Colby Avenue store early because of calls asking if J. Matheson Gifts, Kitchen &Gourmet would be open.

“Our phone was ringing off the hook. People wanted to shop local, and they didn’t want to venture out too far,” Matheson said. Her husband, Hugh Matheson, did the blizzard equivalent of rolling out a welcome mat. “He went out and shoveled the whole block,” she said.

At Alderwood mall in Lynnwood, general manager Jerry Alder said snow has a curious effect. It keeps some people away while luring others out to shop. “It works in both directions,” Alder said. “We stayed open just fine last week. Schools were out and people were looking for things to do, but it does keep some away.”

Alder acknowledged challenges posed by this year’s troubled economy and daunting weather.

“Every single holiday season is different, and this one has plenty of factors tugging in one direction,” he said. “But one thing about the Christmas business, it always shows up.”

Herald reporter Katya Yefimova saw no shortage of business at Alderwood when she visited the mall on a snowy afternoon last week. With packages by his side, Louie Rhoden was sitting on a mall bench Tuesday while his wife shopped. The cold didn’t bother the 76-year-old California native. “I enjoy the seasons,” he said.

The couple had come from Bellingham to shop while the roads were still relatively good. Rhoden said he had chains in the car. “I don’t want to have to put the chains on,” Rhoden said. “I’d rather be at home and watch (the snow) come down.”

Sue Hall, 56, of Mountlake Terrace, was also at Alderwood on Tuesday, crossing gifts off her list. “The rest are easy. I’m close to being done,” she said. Hall was a little worried about the roads. “I avoid driving in the snow and ice when possible,” she said.

Waiting in line at the downtown Everett post office Tuesday, Linda Swanson said she found a fun way to avoid a slippery drive. She and her husband, David, took a bus from Everett Station to downtown Seattle after last weekend’s snow. “We went down to Westlake Center and the Pike Market,” she said.

Others are opting out of big shopping excursions. “I am hearing a lot of that, people really don’t want to go too far,” said Mary Burns, who owns BookWorks on Third Street in Marysville. Burns also said she thinks people are shopping at small local businesses because of troubled times. “It’s comfort,” she said. “By shopping ‘where everybody knows your name,’ so to speak, things are more personal.”

At Arlington Hardware and Lumber, cashier Val Perrigoue said wintry weather hasn’t kept customers away. “I think people are going to stay close in. Here in Arlington, they like to patronize hometown stores,” she said. “The ice melt has been selling,” Perrigoue added.

Tick, tick, tick, that’s the sound of the Christmas clock. All you smart Black Friday shoppers? Sorry I poked fun at you. Shut off the alarm and go back to sleep. Next year, just maybe, I’ll be smart, too.

“It did seem like it came awfully fast,” Burns said.

Christmas has a habit of doing that, every year.

Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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