On one of the busiest shopping days of the year, Maureen Durie lounged in a full-body massage chair at Wilton Mall, the kind perfect for frenzied shoppers at the end of a long shopping day.
Her day, though, was just beginning, and she already needed a break.
“I’ve done no shopping yet,” she said, resignedly, “so it looks like I’m in for a marathon today.”
The 60-year-old Saratoga woman wasn’t alone. A significant number of Americans don’t start their shopping until the weekend before Christmas. But even for those shoppers who kick things off early in the season, there are often last-minute gifts to be bought and items that won’t arrive in time if ordered online. For these reasons, the Saturday before Christmas, dubbed “Super Saturday” by some, is one of the biggest revenue days for retailers nationwide.
Durie is actually a procrastinator with a strategy, though she had always avoided the Saturday before Christmas until this year.
“I was telling one of the guys at work this, because he said he hadn’t started any shopping, and I said, ‘That’s not a bad thing, but you’ve got to be smart,’ ” she recalled Saturday. “You shouldn’t be out today. You should be out Sunday night, when everybody is exhausted from the weekend, the malls are almost dead and there are 9,000 clerks still working. You are in and out of stores in two seconds. There are no lines. There’s nobody pushing you around. You don’t have to scramble to find a spot in the parking lot.”
She and her husband used this method for years when their kids were young. His health suffered recently, though, so on Saturday, Durie was marathon-shopping with her daughter, starting at one end of the mall and finishing at the other.
Retailers across the Capital Region agreed that Saturday was one of their busiest days of the shopping season but added that this year’s holiday season has been slightly less busy than in previous years.
Kathy Fitzmaurice’s Katbird Shop, on Liberty Street in Schenectady, is usually mobbed on Super Saturday.
“It’s slower this year than previous years,” she said. “I know just from looking at industry news, though, that more people are shopping online this year than ever before. So maybe that’s why.”
The Katbird Shop is a small downtown shop that sells local, handcrafted items as well as art and antiques. This time of year, shoppers are drawn to her glass ornaments and dishes, handmade soap, jewelry and pottery.
“This isn’t the best year I’ve had,” she said. “A lot of people have said they just don’t want the hassle of having to run into stores.”
Jeanette Massarro at Bel Cibo Fine Gourmet Foods and Spices echoed those concerns, though she believes the drop in business this season has more to do with the recent bad press downtown Schenectady has received. Specifically, she cited a man who was attacked by a pack of teens at Bow Tie Cinemas over the summer for daring to tell them to be quiet during a movie.
“I think what happened was after that incident, we’ve seen a big drop in business,” she said. “I think people are afraid, and it’s been tough to take. I’ve never been afraid to be in downtown Schenectady.
“Another problem I think is, honestly, we need more retail here downtown. We don’t need another restaurant. We need a coat outlet or J. Crew or a women’s store or shoe store. You go to Saratoga and you have all these stores. Why isn’t that possible here?”
Finding their Niche
Massarro still had decent business this season, especially through sales of gift baskets full of small-batch artisanal foods and spices. So long as she has a niche, she says, she’ll be OK.
That’s how Mysteries on Main Street thrives during the holiday season: The small Johnstown bookstore offers what the big guys can’t, especially local treasures.
“We sell some gift items, like Elf on a Shelf, which was big this year,” Mysteries co-owner Lee Mitchell said Saturday. “But we have local history books, books on the Adirondacks, trail guides and nature guides and books on local waterfalls and local ghost stories. That’s the stuff that sells for us.”
Mitchell said the store, like every other independent bookstore in the country, has seen a drop in business over the years, thanks in large part to Amazon.com. But on Saturday, the bell over his door was constantly jangling as last-minute shoppers filtered in and out of the store. Despite some fog and drizzle, he said this has been the busiest weekend of the season for the store — one of the perks may have been Mysteries’ gift-wrapping service.
Talk about a niche: The only thing worse than last-minute Christmas shopping may be last minute gift-wrapping, at least according to Aaron Ward, advocacy manager for the upstate New York chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Ward and a few society volunteers have been manning booths at local malls for the past month, offering to wrap presents for shoppers in exchange for whatever donation they can give toward freeing the world of multiple sclerosis. Saturday was one of his busiest days yet, he said as he wrapped gifts at Wilton Mall.
“We have wrapped at four malls so far — Rotterdam Square in Schenectady, Aviation Mall in Queensbury, Crossgates Mall in Albany and here,” he said. “Each mall gave us a week, and as the week goes by, the traffic picks up. It’s funny, but it seems to be more men than women who come to us. I believe it’s men who either don’t have the patience to wrap or don’t necessarily want to wrap.”