Last-minute shoppers brave cold, traffic

ALGONQUIN – With less than 36 hours left before Christmas, Cynthia and Jeffrey Jones were wrapping up their holiday shopping (done, of course, on Santa’s behalf).

The Prairie Grove residents weren’t the only ones to brave the artic temperatures, crowded parking lots and busy streets to hit the stores Monday evening.

“Traffic is what’s killing us,” Cynthia Jones said. “I think people forget how to drive.”

“They’re probably checking their lists while driving,” her husband, Jeffrey Jones, added.

Despite an optimistic start to the shopping season, nationwide sales haven’t been as strong as retailers hoped.

Sales at U.S. stores dropped 3.1 percent to $42.7 billion for the week that ended Sunday compared with the same week last year, according to ShopperTrak, which tracks data at 40,000 locations.

The numbers, which don’t include online sales, are another challenge in what has largely been a disappointing holiday shopping season for stores. The two-month period that begins Nov. 1 is important for retailers because they can make up to 40 percent of their annual sales during that time.

Carl Shepard was just starting his shopping Monday evening, a task that kept getting pushed back by work and a lack of transportation.

The Oak Park resident was out at Kohl’s in Algonquin with his daughter, who he’s staying with. His plan was to stock up on a round of gift cards, from Kohl’s, Toys R Us and Walmart.

Shaunna Little, who was back in her hometown of Crystal Lake for the holidays, wanted nothing to do with the big box stores.

She was out with her sister and mother, diving into the boutique shops like Out of the Box in downtown Crystal Lake for a “little last minute shopping, a little shopping for the soul.”

Out of the Box and the other stores along Williams Street were doing a brisk business, more like a Saturday in December than a Monday afternoon, store owner Mary Batson said.

“It gets to be a blur, but it’s a fun blur,” she said. “I think people are just happy to find the right gifts.”

Lori McConville, the owner of Marvin’s Toy Store across the street, agreed, adding that the downtown was a draw for shoppers looking to avoid the rush of the chain stores.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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