It was the first two days of the Christmas shopping season. There were the sights (Santa Clauses), sounds (holiday music) and smells (freshly made popcorn and pastries) that kick off this shop-till-you-drop retail season.
Parking lots were near-to-bulging, and customers, armed with credit cards, checkbooks and gift lists, were numerous.
But, to many shoppers and retailers, the post-Thanksgiving Day mall mania last week lacked its most telling characteristic: frenzy.
As one salesman put it: Shoppers "are just not as gung-ho as last year. They're really tight. They shop a lot more and buy less. There's more window shopping."
Nancy Ingerson of Rolling Hills Estates is one shopper who says she is avoiding a "buy, buy, buy" mind-set. She purchased bedsheets Friday morning at the Del Amo Fashion Center, but was planning to make other Christmas gifts from materials she bought at an arts and crafts store earlier in the week.
"It's the time to be a little more practical," she said, adding that fears of a recession have curbed her impulse buying.
Kay Mattera, a Hemet resident who was visiting her two daughters in San Pedro, said she noticed a lot of empty-handed people Friday at Del Amo. She said fears of a recession might work to her advantage closer to Christmas, if panicked retailers slash prices.
"I'm looking for a $500 comforter for $150," she said.
Chris Danscuk of Redondo Beach was at Del Amo on Friday to get her two children's picture taken with Santa and maybe to buy a few gifts. Her son Nicolas, 2, and daughter, Karissa 10 months, were given paper reindeer antlers to wear on their heads after sitting with St. Nick. Over at The Galleria at South Bay on Saturday, Judith Byard of Los Angeles said she plans to buy gifts this year that are less expensive but just as meaningful.
Two years ago, Byard said she and her family spent a fortune buying gifts for relatives and friends. Now, she said, "I don't seem to be making as much, or the gifts are higher." As for the impact of a possible recession on shoppers: "I think the spirit of giving is still there and people will still buy, but not as much."
But sales haven't been meager for all retailers. Liz Ochoa, a clothing store saleswoman at the Galleria, said sales have been as good so far this year as they were last year.
"It's the same to me," she said. "There are buyers this year; they don't just come to look around."
Shopper Darlinn Lucas, however, said her family has gone back to a "secret pals" system, in which everyone picks a single name from a hat to buy a gift for. Such an exchange is less expensive than buying presents for everyone, she said.
Jim Crosby of Gardena, who has seven children and 16 grandchildren, said his holiday shopping was finished four or five weeks ago.
"Of course, grandparents have this ability, and most younger people will wait almost till the day," of Christmas, he said. Crosby, tending to a stroller, said he was at the mall Saturday to accompany his daughter and baby-sit as she shopped.