NAPLES — Store employees rolled the security gates down Saturday evening as cashiers furiously rang up the merchandise bought by the most egregious of holiday shopping procrastinators.
For every last-minute shopper, there was a rationale for not only waiting until the last day, but the last hours — sometimes minutes — to buy presents on Christmas Eve.
"I work retail. What's going on here is what's going on where I'm working," said Duane Mobley, of Naples, while jewelry shopping at Coastland Center mall in Naples, 30 minutes before the doors shut.
Mobley said he bought as much as possible online, but for items such as jewelry and shoes, he researched but wanted to see the products in person before buying them on his day off.
The final day of Christmas shopping put the finishing touches on what merchants nationally and locally said was a retail season equal to or better than a year ago.
In a seating area at the other end of the mall, Tracy Black rested with his son while his wife shopped with less than an hour to go.
The family arrived Friday from Illinois to spend a week on Marco Island. The fully packed car on the way down was their rationale for waiting until Christmas Eve to do their shopping.
After a few hours in the mall, and with several shopping bags at his feet, Black said the last-minute gifts were "as good as it's going to get."
At Toys 'R Us in North Naples, Naples resident Alisa Ross took a chance that the store would have one specific gift for her 6-year-old twin sons.
An email from a popular online shopping site at 10 p.m. Friday alerted Ross that one of the top items on her boys' wish list wouldn't arrive in time for Christmas.
"I couldn't believe how late they told me," said Ross. "Everything else was done."
She was relieved to find the toy in stock.
"It was one of the things that was really special (to them)," she said.
Naples couple Brian and Tanya Mantell bought presents for their two children early, but waited until Saturday to buy for their niece and nephew.
"We made phone calls to see what everybody got them. Then we came in and got the stuff they didn't get them," Brian Mantell said.
Additionally, spacing out holiday purchases for financial reasons "was a big part of it for us."
Christmas shopping procrastination isn't new, said Ron Worley, store manager at J.C. Penney's Coastland Center location. But after working for years in retail, he believes it's on the rise.
"There does tend to be more last-minute shopping," Worley said. "It's the same for Easter and back to school. It always seems like it's just in time, as opposed to several weeks out."
National numbers hint he may be right.
By mid-December, the average person had completed 46.5 percent of holiday shopping, according to the National Retail Federation, which monitors retail trends. At the same time last year, that figure was 49.5 percent.
By the numbers
The National Retail Federation's holiday forecast predicts $469.1 billion in holiday retail sales, a 3.8 percent increase over 2010.
"For consumers, the holiday season is more of a marathon than a sprint — typically starting the season strong, pacing themselves in the middle and gearing up again in the final stretch, a trend retailers expect every year," said Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay in a statement.
According to the survey, 16.5 percent had yet to start shopping by mid-December. Less than 10 percent had completed it.
The national organization's holiday forecast predicts $469.1 billion in holiday retail sales, a 3.8 percent increase over 2010.
With mostly window shoppers in downtown Naples on Saturday, last-minute shopping wasn't common. But sales in recent weeks were still on par with 2010 numbers, shop owners said.
"The last three months have been way above (last year)," said Larry Liss, owner of The Blue Mussel, which sells decorative gifts. "But the last two weeks flat-lined."
Liss said he keeps the shop open on Christmas to stay visible to tourists, even if business isn't traditionally great on Dec. 25.
"I pay rent no matter what day it is," he joked.
Nearby, Melody Bales at The Lady from Haiti and Moore (its co-owner's name), agreed with Liss that the surge in Fifth Avenue South shopping comes between Christmas and New Year's Day, when visitor numbers spike.
Unlike major retailers, the downtown shops' role during the holidays is primarily for visitors looking for a bit of Naples, and sometimes a bit of nostalgia.
"We get kids in here who remember the store," Bales said of this time of year. "We're really looking forward to this week."