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Last-minute shoppers hit local stores

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Gabriella Ward proved that waiting until the last minute to shop for Christmas gifts isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

But joining the throng of eleventh-hour shoppers wasn’t her fault, the Algonquin woman said.

“There were people I wasn’t going to get a gift for, then I found out they got me a gift,” she said.

Ward was blindly walking the aisles Monday at Kmart looking for that perfect present.

“I don’t even know,” she said. “The pickings are slim. You can’t get what you thought you wanted.”

It was the last shopping day for local retailers, bringing an end to the critical November-to-December period.

At Crystal Lake’s Nelson’s Jewelers, a slew of customers, primarily men, were seeking out gifts just under the wire. Store manager Justin Banaszynski estimated that the store saw at least 100 customers in the six hours it was open on Christmas Eve.

“It’s important this time of year that we see as many people as possible,” he said. “It’s one of the busiest days in December.”

Although the week after Christmas is considered part of the season, by that time, retailers are backed into a corner since it’s their last chance to get rid of items that have been sitting on shelves for months. The steep discounts during that time mean sales are less profitable.

Still, there were some looking for deals Monday afternoon, such as Ray Tousignant, who still had to pick up a gift for his sister.

“She’s easy to buy for; look at this list of books,” the Crystal Lake resident said as he held up two pieces of folded, worn paper. “She makes it easier than anybody.”

Though he made a mad dash to get a few more items, Tousignant’s gift’s final presentation was not up to him, but rather his girlfriend.

“I’m buying, she wraps,” he said, smiling.

After a strong Black Friday weekend, the four-day weekend that starts on Thanksgiving, when sales rose 2.7 percent, the lull that usually follows has been more pronounced.

National sales fell 4.3 percent for the week ending Dec. 15, according to the latest figures from ShopperTrak, which counts foot traffic and its own proprietary sales numbers from 40,000 retail outlets across the country. On Wednesday, ShopperTrak cut its forecast for holiday spending down to 2.5 percent growth to $257.7 billion, from earlier expectations of a 3.3 percent increase.

Several factors have dampened shoppers’ spirits, including fears that the economy could fall off the “fiscal cliff,” triggering tax increases and spending cuts early next year.

But locally, college students returning home often can push last-minute sales.

“They’re home for the holiday, and they really take advantage of that,” Banaszynski

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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