Raleigh, N.C. — At North Hills in Raleigh, carols rang out, lights twinkled and parking spaces were in short supply Monday as the countdown to Christmas continued. Many shops planned to close early to allow workers time to prepare for their own holiday celebrations.
While foot traffic was down in some parts of the country – attributed alternately to economic worries, families still recovering from Hurricane Sandy and the emotional aftermath of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., – shopping centers around the Triangle reported big crowds through the weekend.
Shoppers admitted they had procrastinated but found their Christmas Eve adventure was easier than expected.
"So far not too bad," Eric Murray said. "I found a parking spot pretty easily."
"It's always the last minute that you feel like you gotta have a few more things," said Lou Cunningham.
"I have a car full," she said. "I may have to get a larger car for my presents next year."
Marshal Cohen, chief research analyst at NPD Inc., a market research firm with a network of analysts at shopping centers nationwide, estimates customer traffic over the weekend was in line with the same time a year ago, but that shoppers seem to be spending less.
Wanda Jones said that's true for many people she knows.
"I've talked to a lot of friends and family who said they just don't have it," Jones said. "I don't either, but I guess I'll have to suffer the consequences afterwards."
For employees at Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh, though, Christmas Eve crowds seemed smaller than last year.
"This year was much slower," Stafford Braxton, who works as a Santa's helper at Crabtree during the holiday season. "Last year, we had a line that wrapped around the mall, probably a two-and-a-half, three-hour wait."
The National Retail Federation estimated total 2012 spending from November through December at about $586.1 billion. Hot gifts for boys included Lego and videogames, while Barbie and other dolls topped the list for girls.