Best Chicago stores for last-minute gifts

Services and ShoppingChristmasTargetMacy'sNeiman MarcusNordstromToys "R" Us, Inc.

Holiday shipping deadlines are receding in the rear view mirror and all the sale ads scream “last minute,” but you haven't even begun to shop. Still, there's no need to pout, because the shops are pulling out the stops for last minute gifters this year, with the most extensive extended hours ever and some hefty merchandise buys.

Chicago is a shopper's paradise, with a full complement of both national chains and exclusive local stores to choose from. We surveyed the options -- considering the stores' hours during the last weekend through Monday, Dec. 24, their reputation for having merchandise in stock, customer service, presentation, no-hassle returns and special last-minute events – and came up with a five-point itinerary for the truly last-minute holiday shopper.

1. Toys "R" Us and Macy's for extended hours

Toys "R" Us will open its doors at at 6 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 21, and they will not close until 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Seriously – you could go out on Christmas Eve and still have time to pick up gifts for Christmas Day on the way home. That's 88 straight hours of toys.

Across the country, Macy's will be open 24 hours a day the last weekend before Christmas, but in the Chicago area, the round-the-clock madness doesn't end with the weekend. The Macy's stores at Oakbrook Center and at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg will be open continuously through 6 p.m. on Dec. 24. The downtown Macy's will be open 24 hours from Dec. 21 through 11 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 23, and then 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 24.

The all-nighters will probably not be popular with retail employees, who have already picketed and circulated petitions over big retailers opening on Thanksgiving Day. But for shoppers, the beauty of stores open all night is that you can shop at the last minute and avoid crowds. Even on Black Friday, many stores are pretty empty after midnight.

Naturally, these stores are advertising mega sales during the last days, but Jared Hatch, editor of the Web site Racked Chicago, predicted that even more hot deals may pop up.

“Macy's, Target (and) Toys 'R' Us are really pushing the boundaries of retail business hours and have bought way too much product this year,” Hatch said. “I anticipate the perfect storm for some good sales at these businesses.”

 2. Nordstrom for a deep backroom and ready-to-wrap presents.

Personal shopper Gina Gagliardi's favorite store of last resort is Nordstrom.

“They almost always have what you're looking for and they keep a lot of back stock,” said Gagliardi, whose Web site GinaGStyle.com describes her gift buying services. “They also put all of your gifts neatly into boxes with tissue paper and a ribbon, so the only task you have when you get home is wrapping. If they do not have a particular size you're looking for, the item can be ordered until this Thursday (Dec. 20) and guaranteed for Christmas Eve delivery.”

Gifters can feel confident shopping at Nordstrom because returning items there is always easy, Gagliardi said.

 3. Target for the Neiman Marcus Collection and price matching.

Target, which will stay open until 9 p.m. Christmas Eve, will match prices from local competitors' ads or from Target.com, which can save the value oriented, last-minute shopper the time of waiting in long check-out lines at multiple stores.

For Hatch, the appeal of Target this holiday season is its partnership with Neiman Marcus, featuring more affordable versions of luxury brands including Oscar de la Renta and Marc Jacobs. The Wall Street Journal reported that the collaboration did not create nearly as much customer interest as last year's Missoni collection at Target.

“The clientele at Target didn't understand (the Neiman Marcus collaboration), thus (Target) has a ton of product left which may go on sale at the last minute,” Hatch said.

Just keep in mind that if your giftee ends up returning an item from the Neiman Marcus collection, it must be done by Jan. 5, instead of within the usual 90-day window.

4. Papyrus and Paper Source for last-minute wrapping.

Many stores offer their own gift-wrapping service, including Macy's, but feel free to patronize a store that doesn't, because you can get it done at a paper store, Gagliardi advises.

“You will be amazed at what work of arts they look like!” she said.

Paper Source will wrap gifts while you wait – you can't drop them off – and only when the store is not busy, said spokeswoman Emily Senk. The cost is $4 to $10. The chain's eight Chicago-area locations are open until 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve., except for the Oakbrook store, which is open until 6 p.m.

Gift wrapping at Papyrus' nine Chicago-area locations costs $4 to $12 per box, plus the cost of the paper. It's a good idea to call your local store to find out how soon you should bring in your packages if you want them wrapped before close of business on Christmas Eve.

For the truly time-poor, Papyrus even sells pre-wrapped gifts, including journals, pens and photo frames.

5. Your local neighborhood boutiques for a calmer, hipper holiday.

There are several great things about sticking to the little neighborhood stores: The mood will be less frantic, the selection more eclectic and you'll leave with your holiday glow boosted by the knowledge that more of the dollars you spent will stay in your neighborhood.

While neighborhood stores are not going to be open 24 hours or be able to offer aggressive price-matching guarantees, they have their perks, too. Local stores and smaller chains in nearly every neighborhood of Chicago are opening their doors longer during the last week before Christmas and pulling out all the stops to make your shopping experience easier.

Lincoln Park's Barbour, a tweedy British clothing store, is holding an after-hours shopping party on Friday, Dec. 21, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., with a special one-night discount, goody bags for those who donate a gently-used winter coat and refreshments.

Eco-friendly baby and kids' store Green Genes, in Andersonville, is open until 5 p.m. Christmas Eve, and a $15 or larger purchase gets you into a raffle for prizes including a $50 store gift card. 

 

BREAKDOWN OF THE BEST LAST MINUTE STORES:

(Store Name:Christmas Eve Hours -- Return Policy)

  • Toys R Us: 12 a.m. to 10 p.m. -- Most items can be returned for a full refund within 90 days.

  • Macy's: Schaumburg and Oakbrook, 12 a.m. to 6 p.m., downtown 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. -- Return most items for a full refund with no time limit.

  • Nordstrom: Hours vary by location -- No official return policy, but spokeswoman Ashley Boero said they “always try to do our best to make sure customers are happy with the merchandise they purchased at Nordstrom.”

  • Target: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. -- Most items within 90 days, electronics within 30 days, Neiman Marcus collection by Jan. 5. Store charge card holders get an extra 30 days for most returns.

  • Papyrus: LaSalle store 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., other locations may vary -- Can't return gift wrapping service.

  • Paper Source: Oakbrook 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., other locations 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. -- Can't return gift wrapping service.

  • Barbour: 10 a.m.to 4 p.m. -- Unworn merchandise accepted for up to one year with receipt and original credit card.

  • Green Genes: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. -- Exchange for merchandise or store credit within 60 days. 

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