Last-minute shoppers dedicate themselves to the task of gifting

Saturday, December 24, 2011 | 2:03 p.m. CST; updated 5:27 p.m. CST, Saturday, December 24, 2011

COLUMBIA — Lois Anderson and David Crooks have had their eye on an glass-front china hutch for several months. They wanted to purchase the corner hutch to display their dishes and provide additional storage. 

"About a month ago, Lois said it would be a good Christmas gift for each other," Crooks said. "Today was the first chance we had to go look at it."

On Friday, they headed to The Market Place, at 1100 Business Loop 70 W. to check on the hutch. Ultimately, the couple decided to wait for the after-Christmas sale.

Stores were open later than usual Friday for last-minute shoppers like Anderson and Crooks.

Throughout the Columbia Mall, around The District and in the area's flea markets and antique stores, people were dedicated to the task of buying gifts on a holiday deadline. 

Pleasant weather brought customers downtown to buy gifts and stocking stuffers for friends and family.

Karla Sprick, who restricted herself to shopping solely in The District, said she would rather shop downtown than at a mall.

She prides herself in patronizing downtown businesses and said it makes a difference to be able to walk outside from store to store.

Mustard Seed Fair Trade has experienced one of its most successful shopping seasons so far, executive director Jessica Canfield said Friday.

"Most of the week has been steady, but as we get closer to Christmas, we're getting busier," she said.

Around the corner on Broadway, Cool Stuff had a steady stream of customers browsing and purchasing the eclectic merchandise.

"Today is probably the biggest day of the year for us," said self-proclaimed "El Presidente" Arnie Fagan, owner of Cool Stuff. "We really specialize in procrastinators, last-minute shoppers and stocking stuffers."

Fagan said he expects to see a rush of shoppers with panicked looks on their faces on Christmas Eve because a lot of other places will be closed.

A couple of blocks away at The Candy Factory, customers perused the store, loading up colorful baskets with candies to satisfy holiday sweet-tooth cravings.

"We’re a really fun store to come into during the holiday," said Donna Atkinson, owner of The Candy Factory. "People walk in the door and just start oohing and aahing.”

Because of an anticipated increase in last-minute shopping, many store owners said they try to keep the shelves full.

“We keep producing, keep packaging and trying not to run out,” Atkinson said, about popular holiday gift items such as chocolate-covered orange peels, chocolate-covered potato chips and flavored popcorns.

Ed Czebrinski came to The Candy Factory to buy an assortment of gifts for his family in St. Louis, including pecan brittle, mixed nuts, bridge mix and boxes of chocolate.

“I always try to bring my family something that is local,” Czebrinski said. “I feel that gifts from Columbia are good gifts for people outside Columbia.”

Columbia flea markets and antique stores offered customers a different approach to holiday shopping.

Christmas decorations capped the aisles and booths of Itchy’s Flea Market, The Market Place and McAdams’ Ltd.

Itchy’s Flea Market employee Judy Hall said most dealers bring in their Christmas decorations to sell in late October and holiday shopping picks up in the middle of November.

Shoppers arrive early in the season to pick up the decorations, Hall said. “Now they’re pretty serious about their presents.”

Customers strolled through the store looking at sports insignia, toys and antique items no longer of value to the original owners.

“People buy a little bit of everything,” Hall said. “Even though they are buying for Christmas, they’re still buying usable things.”

Ron Sterchi, owner of The Market Place, said the store’s sales were up 5 percent to 10 percent. Sterchi said the store sold more than 700 items the weekend before Christmas. He said customers this year are buying smaller-ticket items.

Although his store was busy with customers Friday, Sterchi is looking ahead to the store’s annual after-Christmas sale which starts Monday.

McAdams' Ltd., a family-owned-and-operated antique and jewelry store, had a buy-one-get-one-free deal on holiday items for shoppers the weekend before Christmas.

“We love last-minute shoppers,” said Mary Pat Abele, design consultant at McAdams'. “We can guarantee that we can find something for them, and they will leave satisfied.”

Abele said business has steadily picked up over the past two weeks but most shoppers know what they are looking for. She often sees mothers looking for an ornament to commemorate a child’s achievement.

Each tree in McAdams' had a different theme, from fish to Mardi Gras, and ornaments of many shapes and sizes covered each tree.

Cowboy boot and pickle ornaments peeked out of one of the trees in the store. A children's tree held train and cupcake ornaments.

Store owners expect their stores to be busy until they close on Christmas Eve, as well.

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