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COUNTYWIDE : Last-Day Blitz Fills Mall Parking Lots

Orange County’s malls were bustling with last-minute shoppers Monday, in the final and one of the busiest shopping days of an otherwise disappointing Christmas season for most merchants.

Many workers had the day off or were given early leave, giving merchants hope that they would spend the day spending. The rush was also expected because of a trend in recent years toward late-season spending sprees.

From the looks of the crowds, store owners were not disappointed. Parking lots reached capacity by midafternoon, with aisles packed with scurrying shoppers.

More important, customers were buying instead of just looking, retailers said. Five weekends after Thanksgiving, it was finally shopping do or die: Buy it now or go without--at least until the after-Christmas sales.

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Department store executives and owners of small shops hoped that the Christmas Eve rush would turn around the sales slump, which has been prompted by concerns about the economy and political uncertainty.

While a strong showing in the last three days may not make the season a winner, at least it ended on an upbeat note.

Amid worries about recession and war, the stores that seemed busiest were often discounters or featuring lower-cost items. At the Topkapi store in Westminster Mall, shoppers stood five and six deep at times Monday to buy earrings and costume jewelry.

“We were prepared for everything,” said a self-assured sales clerk, Linh Huynh, as she restocked a shelf.

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Derek Adams, a salesman at the Organ Exchange, said he thought that Saturday looked busier than Monday. “It’s a little slower today,” he said. “People are probably buying a lot more groceries.”

He admitted that he was a last-minute shopper himself, planning to scrounge through the mall when he got off work to find gifts for his 9-month-old daughter and various nieces and nephews.

Even at tony Fashion Island in Newport Beach, shoppers said they had economic concerns on their mind.

Leah Vankirk, waiting for a cash register at a Doubleday Bookshop, said she was buying books and compact discs as presents this year instead of more expensive gifts.

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“It’s a ‘cutting-back’ cost, and it’s convenient for me to pick them up,” she said.

Business was also brisk at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. At the exclusive Gucci store, sales picked up in the last two weeks, said Carlo Armenise, the store manager. He said he expects sales of the store’s line of designer handbags and leather goods to outpace last year’s.

At Burberrys, known for its trench coats and other outerwear, manager Steve Miller said the last-minute sales flurry had been strong. The daily sales volume since Saturday had been roughly equal to about two to three weeks of sales the rest of the year.

At Tiffany & Co., fur-clad matrons hovered over glass cases filled with sparkling jewels. Sales there were up this season, especially in the last week, said Jo Ellen Qualls, Tiffany’s vice president and manager.

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“Everybody’s biting their finger until the last minute,” she said.


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