Christmas shoppers made mad, down-to-the-wire dashes to local malls Sunday, where they found steep end-of-season discounts on everything from bright-colored poppy socks to name-brand handbags to must-have gadgets, and even small appliances like a griddle. | Photo Gallery
While Americans may very well plunge off the fiscal cliff in less than a week if Washington lawmakers can't come to a deal over tax cuts, overall consumer spending this weekend appeared to climb compared to the same time last year, retail analysts said.
At the Glendale Galleria, which plans to open a Bloomingdale's next year, shoppers saw bargains everywhere, from 50-percent-off sales at Macy's to shops that boasted men's shirts no higher than $10.
"Those sales are bringing people in," said Louis Espinoza, 29, of North Hills.
Espinoza was at the mall to return a coat he had bought for his mother - he just happened to show it to her, and it wasn't quite what she wanted.
"I'm returning the coat, but I'm also going to look around for last-minute gifts," he said. "Everything is 50 percent off."
Diana LaSalle said she is generally a procrastinator. That habit doesn't always pay off, but it did on Sunday. She arrived at the Galleria at 8 a.m.
"The prices were doable this year," she said. "I never shop on Black Friday because I think it's too chaotic. But I came early this morning, and I'm done. I'm going home, where my kids are probably still asleep."
Despite Sunday's crowds, there might still be a lot of shopping left today, on Christmas Eve, said Bill Martin, founder of ShopperTrak, a retail research firm that tracks foot traffic.
Retailers had the benefit of one more shopping weekend before Christmas this year than last. The longer shopping cycle resulted in some procrastination - 68 percent of shoppers had not finished their lists as of this weekend, Martin said.
"These are really big days for retailers and they are expecting shoppers to come out in great numbers," he said.
Martin said traffic dipped a bit after Black Friday but then picked up and is on pace to increase by 2.8 percent over last year.
It would be the first increase since 2006.
Overall, Southern California's retailers should see sales increase from last year by a range of 3.5 to 3.8 percent, in line with earlier forecasts, said Kimberly Ritter-Martinez, senior economist at the Kyser Center for Economic Research in Los Angeles.
The National Retail Federation earlier predicted that sales nationally would increase 4.1 percent to $586.1 billion. Last year, sales increased 5.7 percent from 2010, but they were coming up off low levels.
"It's actually looking pretty good. It's decent but not spectacular," Ritter-Martinez said of this year's sales total.
Shoppers still seem to be in a good mood, too, despite uncertainty about the economy.
"We did see a recent dip in the consumer confidence number and I think it did have to do with the fiscal cliff. But it really hasn't slowed the shopping down," she said.
Turnout was heavy just before noon Sunday at Redondo Beach's South Bay Galleria, where at least 20 families stood in line to see Santa Claus, cars idled waiting for parking spots and mall security officers worked to manage traffic flow.
Shoppers seemed to take advantage of deals and sales advertised at every turn.
"We got a lot of gifts," said Lawndale resident Dennis Blackwood, who with his wife, Marissa, clutched two stuffed plastic shopping bags from Kohl's.
The Blackwoods, who arrived at the Galleria after 8 a.m., don't typically wait to shop until just before Christmas. But that's how it turned out this year and, as a result, the move paid off as they picked up clothes, blankets and a griddle.
"We were betting on how much we could save," said Dennis Blackwood, who won the wager. He'd guessed $235, while his wife said $175. The savings reported on their receipt: $300.
At the Inland Center mall in San Bernardino, Judy McDonald said this Christmas will be significantly larger than last year.
More hours at work means more income for the family and that translates into extra money to spend on children and grandchildren.
"We got some bills paid off this year and things are looking better," said McDonald, a school bus driver and bus-driving teacher in Riverside County.
Among the shoppers with many bags Sunday at Montclair Plaza were Lynn Jamison of Glendora and her daughter, Jo Jamison, 22.
"We always say were are not going to wait for the last minute and we always do. We will still be shopping on Christmas Eve. ... I hope the stores are open late," Lynn Jamison said.
"I think there's something about it we like. It's all the people and all the rushing around. The only thing I don't like about it is the parking," she said.
Both said they felt store pricing was aggressive this year and it wasn't hard to find good deals on gifts.
For those looking for one-of-a-kind gifts this Christmas season, Long Beach had much to offer.
Outside Merry's on Broadway, Humphrey, a life-size metallic camel wearing a Santa Claus hat, welcomed last-minute Christmas shoppers.
The Long Beach fashion boutique resembles a Middle Eastern bazaar, selling a vast selection of handmade men's and women's clothing, scarves and handbags supporting indigenous artisans in African, Middle Eastern and Asian countries.
The shop also sells an eclectic collection of ornate bracelets, necklaces and earrings.
Lloyd Rodgers, 70, of Long Beach said he has purchased Christmas gifts for four years at Merry's. This year, he bought a colorful Pakistani scarf and recycled silk cap from Nepal.
"There's a great selection here," said Rodgers, a music professor at Cal State Fullerton.
Kathryn Atwood of Los Angeles bought a gray-and-blue knitted hat and a dark green satchel from Nepal.
"No one will show up with what I buy here. Everything is unique," Atwood said.
Down the street, Long Beach residents Gerry, 68, and Kathy Fishkin, 65, shopped at Visionary Artware, a gift store selling eclectic home decor and mosaic art pieces.
The Fishkins have purchased Christmas gifts for 20 years at Visionary Artware, Gerry Fishkin said. This time, they purchased some festive ornaments.
"This is the ultimate Christmas store," Gerry said. "There's a workshop in the back. It's like an old-fashioned Christmas shop."
Staff Writers Kristin S. Agostoni, Jim Steinberg and Phillip Zonkel contributed to this article.