- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 25, 2001

Procrastinating shoppers flocked to stores yesterday in search of deeply discounted, last-minute gifts.
But stores weren't as packed as they were over the weekend. Many malls near office buildings, such as the Shops at National Place, were nearly empty. Other regional malls, like the Fashion Center at Pentagon City, Laurel Mall and Arundel Mills, saw sizable crowds.
"The weekend was very good," said Nazli Shah, general manager at For Your Entertainment (FYE), a music, video and home entertainment store at Arundel Mills.
Sales over the weekend beat the store's grand opening weekend in November 2000.
The store, with aisle after aisle of compact discs and digital video discs, was full of last-minute shoppers yesterday. But if they were searching for DVD players, X-Boxes or Playstation 2s the hot items this season they were out of luck.
"Everything is gone," Ms. Shah said.
Many hot items could be found at smaller stores, like the Electronics Boutique in Pentagon City. There, holiday shoppers took some time to replay a Carolina Panthers-Cincinnati Bengals game on an X-Box, while pondering whether to buy a Playstation 2, available for $299.
While many people had the bulk of their shopping done by yesterday, some had just started.
"I only have seven hours to complete my mission, so price is no object," said John J. Dollymore, who started his Christmas shopping for 15 persons yesterday at Laurel Mall.
Mr. Dollymore said he couldn't start his shopping any earlier because he was away on business for two weeks and had just returned on Sunday.
"This is a mission," he said holding a half-dozen bags and stretching his legs outside a store. "I'll get in and get out, and no one gets hurt."
By noon, he was halfway done and expected to be finished by 4 p.m.
Cristina Ferrer of Ellicott City left Arundel Mills Sunday night because it was too crowded and the lines were too long. She returned yesterday at 9 a.m. to finish what she started.
"Because it's the last day before Christmas, I'm cramming it all in," said Mrs. Ferrer, taking a break on one of the benches at the megamall, which has more than 200 stores.
Mrs. Ferrer, like many shoppers, couldn't help but notice the extraordinary discounts this year as retailers tried to draw more customers and move merchandise off their shelves.
"Discounts are a lot better this year," she said.
Mrs. Ferrer began her shopping several days after Thanksgiving but waited to do her buying until the retailers dropped their prices. She may have waited too long.
"I was searching for a good price," she said. "I'm finding them now, but I'm not finding the right sizes."
While virtually all of her shopping was done by midmorning yesterday, Mrs. Ferrer still was searching for the exact leather jacket her husband wanted. She couldn't find his size at Arundel Mills and was heading to the Mall in Columbia later in the day to try her luck there.
At the jam-packed Fashion Center at Pentagon City in Arlington, many stores offered holiday discounts and began "after Christmas" sales early. The Disney Store, for instance, offered a plush toy from the movie "Shrek" and a large, stuffed Eeyore doll, regularly priced at $22, for $10.
Abercrombie & Fitch and Structure placed all of their jeans on sale, while Aeropostale, Eddie Bauer and the Limited discounted some items as much as 50 percent.
But the discounts didn't satisfy everyone.
"I wasn't impressed," said D.C. resident Janice Williams, as she did some last-minute shopping in Pentagon City. She carried one bag filled with small items from Crate & Barrel.
"Maybe I'll try again next week," said Mrs. Williams, who added that she spent "a lot less" on holiday gifts this year.
This holiday shopping season is expected to be one of the most sluggish in more than a decade, thanks to the recession and an uncertain job market.
For the first three weeks of the season, sales at specialty stores in malls were down 3 percent, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.
The National Retail Federation is expecting a 2.5 percent increase in sales this season, compared with a 3.9 percent increase last year.
Despite the sluggish predictions from other analysts, consumers still were spending this Christmas season.
"I bought more than I planned for," said Karen Williams, who was shopping for a "last few odds and ends" at Laurel Mall. "The sales helped a whole lot."
Many shoppers have their eyes on the after-Christmas sales, which usually last throughout the week after the holiday. It's a way for retailers to clear the extra merchandise off their shelves and a way for shoppers to get even bigger discounts.
"That's what everyone's waiting for," said Kassiani Kakitsis of Calverton, who was at Laurel Mall with her husband yesterday and was only browsing, since she had finished her shopping.
"We'll stock up this year for next year."

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