East Valley shoppers crowded malls the last weekend before Christmas even as the economy is experiencing tough times. Last-minute gift grabbers gave mall and retail officials cause for seasonal cheer Saturday along with the highest number of shoppers for the month.
At Westcor's Fiesta Mall near Southern Avenue and Alma School Road, by early afternoon the mall's parking lot was packed with cars and, presumably, shoppers.
San Francisco transplant Ignacio Rios said he moved to the East Valley recently for work, and his busy work schedule forced him to wait until the last minute to do his Christmas shopping.
"I work 8 to 5 through the week and I have Saturday and Sunday off," Rios said. "This is the only free time."
Rios' eyes were wide as he observed the signs that loomed large with red discount tags enticing shoppers. One banner stretched behind him touted the slogan: "Sale. Buy now. Save big."
Not all shoppers were out for last-minute savings, though.
Ralph and Pam Crabtree of Tempe said they were only visiting the mall to purchase a gift card for their daughter who will soon start as a student teacher in the East Valley.
"We're purchasing a mall gift card so she can purchase professional attire for her job," Ralph Crabtree said.
When asked whether they would be taking advantage of any of the sales touted by various shops in the mall, Pam Crabtree responded: "Probably not; we already got the gifts we wanted."
A National Retail Federation survey reported this week that the average person had already completed about 65 percent of his or her holiday shopping by the weekend before Christmas.
The survey also found that about 20 percent of people have not started holiday shopping, with the biggest procrastinators being men.
"With so much shopping left to do, the weekend before Christmas will be one of the most important periods of the year for retailers," said the federation's CEO, Tracy Mullin.
Fiesta Mall property manager Mike Jorgenson said while there would not be an official tally of visitors and sales available, he acknowledged the volume of patrons at his site was high.
"This is the busiest day for us so far this month," Jorgenson said.
Even with signs boasting "40 percent" and "50 percent off" savings, purse strings were tighter than in previous years, Jorgenson said.
"This year is different in that people are definitely more motivated by price," he said.
At the Coach Leatherware store in Chandler Fashion Center, employees Roxanne Taurisano and Janelle Shearer said their store was on target to see more than 2,100 customers by the end of the day, many of whom were looking for last-minute deals.
"I think people are starting to feel the stress - crunch-time," Shearer said.
Chandler Fashion Center spokeswoman Munira Smith said the holiday traffic started earlier than the past three years, and she credited it to retailers "promoting the sales" earlier.
Gilbert resident Tracy Lenzo shopped at Chandler Fashion Center for the 2007 holiday season, but said she now prefers the SanTan Village mall near the intersection of Williams Field Road and the Santan Freeway leg of Loop 202. "(Shopping) is just so much more convenient," she said during a Saturday trip to the outdoor mall.
Lenzo and her three sons, ages 8, 6 and 4, anxiously waited in line to see Santa with their lists in hand.
Queen Creek resident Vanessa Shivley said she finished most of her shopping early by making purchases online, and she was just visiting the mall with a friend.
Westcor spokeswoman Jennifer Munn said the SanTan Village site has unveiled 22 new stores since last year's holiday season and has seen an increase of holiday shopping traffic, as well.
"This year we've been very lucky with good weather," she said. Last year saw inclement weather during the same period, which drove some shoppers away from mall, she said.
Chandler resident Denise Jorvij joined her two daughters at the Chandler mall Saturday to help them shop for Secret Santa gifts. The family decided to participate in a Secret Santa this year to save money after Jorvij's husband lost his job near the beginning of the year, she said.
"So far it's been OK," she said of seeking savings during the family shopping trip.