Last-minute shoppers mob malls, grocers

Posted December 24, 2010 12:42 p.m. EST
Updated December 24, 2010 6:13 p.m. EST

— It's Black Friday, The Sequel. Stores in North Carolina and across the nation rolled out deals and were swimming in shoppers on Christmas Eve as stragglers took advantage of a day off work.

"It's a mad house," said Tammy Brown. "Hopefully, I can get in and out."

Brown said she was looking for clothes, jewelry, shoes and gift cards.

"Let people get their own stuff," she said.

Brown was joined by hundreds of others at Triangle Town Center in Raleigh Friday, including 5-year-old Bella, who waited to share a last-minute wish with Santa Claus. She asked for a Barbie and a new panda bear. 

"My bear has a hole in it, and I can see his stuffing," she said. 

Jennifer Jones, a spokeswoman for the mall, said she's seen anecdotal evidence of stronger sales this year.

"I noticed this year, just walking through the mall, there's a lot of packages in people's hands," she said. "Viewing our Santa set, the line is some 2½-hour wait, where maybe it hadn't been quite as long in recent years."

For retailers, the last-minute rush caps the best year since 2007 and possibly ever. A strong Christmas Eve would round out a surprisingly successful holiday season for retailers.

The National Retail Federation predicts holiday sales will reach $451.5 billion this year, up 3.3 percent over last year.

That would be the biggest year-over-year increase since 2006 and the largest total since sales hit a record $452.8 billion in 2007. A strong finish could even give 2010 the crown.

Winter clothes and electronics have been the biggest sellers at Triangle Town Center, Jones said.

At Lowes Foods, cooks were looking for the holiday meal with all the trimmings. 

"Turkeys, hams, you name it, anything you cook for the holidays, they're buying," said Geoff Vicek.

Most Triangle-area malls closed at 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve.