Shoppers dig out and trudge on

By Ylan Q. Mui and Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 21, 2009; A14

Shoppers slowly returned to the malls Sunday after the weekend snowstorm effectively canceled what probably would have been the busiest shopping day of the holiday season.

Most local shopping centers opened on time Sunday morning after closing early Saturday as roads became impassable and public transportation shut down. But many shoppers were kept busy shoveling until early afternoon.

Katie Lehman, 28, of Lorton, forced herself to go to the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City because she had procrastinated so long to buy holiday gifts. Holding bags from Nordstrom and Gap, Lehman said she was "pleasantly surprised" that few people had arrived at the mall.

"Come hell or high water, I was going shopping today," Lehman said. "I put it off yesterday, but today I had to dig out. This is my last-ditch effort."

Rretailers are counting on procrastinating shoppers to make up for sales lost Saturday. According to the National Retail Federation, most consumers had yet to complete half their lists as of last week. Tysons Corner Center is considering holding promotions such as "procrastination stations" with last-minute gift items, and some stores may hold midnight openings this week.

By Sunday afternoon, the ticking clock had driven many shoppers to dig out their cars and brave the slushy roads. Tysons Corner Center marketing manager Allison Fischer said about 200 people were waiting in line for photos with Santa. At Westfield Montgomery Mall, interim general manager Emily Kosash said, parking lots were full.

"It's crazy here," she said. "More shoppers are coming."

Old Town Alexandria's King Street had an Old World feel Sunday, with families on foot replacing the usual traffic snarls. Snow complemented the holiday garlands and red ribbons adorning street lights.

Retailers said they were experiencing lighter-than-normal traffic, and some posted shorter "snow hours" to allow employees to safely arrive and leave before nightfall.

"It's a lot slower," said Ruth Cecchini, store leader at Restoration Hardware. "But I'm expecting it to pick up during the week as we head toward Christmas."

The Hallmark store did not open Saturday because employees couldn't get in, and it opened on Sunday only because a manager was able to pick up employees on the way to Old Town.

"Saturday would have been our biggest day of the season, so in that sense it hurt us," said Tammy Dorough, who caught a ride with her manager because public buses weren't running from her home along Route 1. "But it has been steadier today. Not like normal, but pretty steady."

The Mall at Prince Georges was filled with shoppers, among them many children who noticed that the big red velvet chair in the middle sat empty.

"No Santa," said one woman as she toted her baby away. A paper clock on the chair said that Santa would be back for photos and to take requests for toys on Monday.

The note was as welcome as a lump of coal.

"I am upset. If I can make it, then Santa can make," said Jasmine Ewing of Northeast Washington, who'd brought her 6-month-old son, Jamal. "I guess I will have to come back Monday."

Staff writer Hamil R. Harris contributed to this report.

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