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Last-Minute Shopping Has Its Moments : Christmas: A Newbury Park man visited 10 pet stores, called 15 more and contacted vets and animal shelters before locating a kitten for his daughter.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

So you looked all over and couldn’t find Baby Alive, dead or alive? The stores were out of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Sewer Hockey your kid wanted? No end to Nintendos, but hardly a Barbie in town?

Such hassles greeted many last-minute shoppers at Ventura County stores on Monday, the day before Christmas. But imagine how frustrated John Rooney felt as he spent hours trying to buy what most people can’t give away.

“Just try and find a kitten on Christmas Eve,” said Rooney, 28, of Newbury Park. “I was amazed. I put it off to the last day because I figured kittens were everywhere.”

First he visited 10 pet stores in eastern Ventura County. Sold out, they said. Then he called 15 more stores from home, with the same result. Increasingly desperate, Rooney called a few veterinarians, then went to animal shelters in Agoura and Simi Valley.

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“I would have taken anything, except one of those longhairs,” said Rooney, who was shopping for his 9-year-old daughter, Brandy. And it had to be a kitten, not a full-grown feline.

Finally, Rooney tracked down a tiny Siamese in a Simi Valley pet store.

Marcy Polier drove all the way from her home in Brentwood to the Janss Mall in Thousand Oaks. The Toys R Us store there is the only place she could find Baby Alive, a popular doll that teaches children about the digestive tract.

But Polier wasn’t buying the doll for her child. She wanted it for a little girl in East Los Angeles who had written a letter to Santa Claus. Polier got the letter through a Postal Service program and didn’t want to disappoint the child.

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Customer traffic varied from store to store but seemed light overall considering the date. Many shoppers wandered aimlessly down store aisles, apparently waiting for inspiration to strike.

Les Waas, acting president of the Philadelphia-based Procrastinators Club of America, said Christmas Eve shoppers experience less stress because stores are less crowded.

“Most people who do Christmas shopping at the last minute do it a lot faster out of necessity,” said Waas, an advertising executive who said his 8,500-member club will hold a Christmas buying seminar on Thursday.

“Even if they feel stress, they feel it for a shorter period of time than people who spent weeks shopping. And the salespeople benefit because they get a lot of quick sales.”

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Last-minute shopper Bobby Kunes, however, seemed a bit anxious as 6 p.m. neared and he still hadn’t found a stuffed chow dog for his girlfriend. It was almost closing time at the Buenaventura Mall in Ventura when Kunes gave up. His girlfriend is getting a $40 gift certificate from a clothing store.

It’s her favorite store, Kunes said, but he added: “I may be in big, big trouble.”

Davin Cornett of Ojai decided to turn his procrastination into a practical joke on his wife Heather.

While she waited in the promenade of the Buenaventura Mall, he left to buy her present. At 6:05, after all the stores had closed, he returned, glum-faced and apologetic.

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“I was in the Hallmark and they ended up kicking me out of the store,” he told Heather. “There weren’t even any good cards left.”

But he had sneaked out to his truck and hidden a pair of leather boots that his wife will find under the tree this morning.

“But maybe first I’ll wrap myself up in a ribbon and say ‘here’s your present,’ ” Cornett said.

Not everyone did their shopping at a mall.

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“We’ve been very, very busy--more than I expected,” said Sharon Jensen, a cashier at the Assn. for Retarded Citizens’ thrift store in downtown Ventura. Cold weather boosted the last-minute rush, she said. “We’ve been selling lots of long johns, heavy coats, blankets and sweaters.”

And not everyone spent Monday shopping.

Dale Flores of Ventura took advantage of what one official called the slowest day of the year at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

“I figured this would be the best day,” said Flores, who was at the Ventura DMV office to register a boat his parents gave him for Christmas. About 15 workers staffed the gaily decorated office, outnumbering customers by a three-to-one margin.

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“People have so many other things to do today,” said DMV Operations Officer Lucy Smith. She said she had already let some employees go home early.

At the San Buenaventura Mission, music director Erin Holmes spent Monday afternoon getting the choir’s sheet music ready for Midnight Mass.

In honor of the mission’s founder, Father Junipero Serra, the program included Christmas carols and hymns from the Baroque period when Serra lived. The choir was going to sing the Gloria portion of the Mass in Latin and conclude the service with Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.”

Maureen Kuentzel and Cris Morris of Camarillo had the day off from their office jobs and decided to spend the day volunteering for some worthy cause.

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“This is the only place that called us back,” Kuentzel said as she and Morris waited for lunches to deliver for the Meals on Wheels program. “We told them we were off work today and figured they might need us because a lot of people go out of town.”

Inside the Meals on Wheels kitchen in Camarillo, cook Velma Lerma and volunteer Hank Burgeson were dishing out a special Christmas Eve dinner for 1,050 of the county’s elderly. The menu included ham (or roast pork for low-salt diets), orange-cranberry sauce, yams, green beans, a dinner roll, apple-raisin-walnut pie and a hot spiced fruit drink called wassail.

“We had to order things in advance so we started planning about a month ago,” said supervisor Jesse Keith. The kitchen was preparing another 125 meals to be delivered Monday night to the temporary homeless shelter at the National Guard Armory in Oxnard.

Cooking for 1,000 or more people is no big deal for Lerma. She was busy giving her co-workers paper plates full of cookies that she had baked at home.

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Many people picked up the holiday spirit at a liquor store. Rooney, for example, stopped by Wendy Liquor and Deli to get all the fixings for hot buttered rum. He was expecting about 20 friends and relatives to drop by on Christmas Eve.

At the Newbury Park Florist next door, Beverly Birch was closing up after delivering 27 poinsettias and other holiday arrangements. Flowers are popular with procrastinators, she said. “They don’t have to deal with whether it fits or not.”


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