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It may take good prices to catch gift buyers' eyes

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By JAN GLIDEWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published December 3, 2002

Since I avoid all other holiday traditions as much as possible, except those involving eating, it follows that the big day-after-Thanksgiving rush on retail outlets may be the one that I most enjoy avoiding.

Don't get me wrong, I love shopping. I am a self-confessed mid-life-onset mall rat.

It's crowds that I can't stand.

That and being pressured to spend money based on the earth's tilt on its axis, something I finally just gave up fighting.

Large crowds of people, I notice as I age, are increasingly dominated by individuals whose primary purpose in life is to get in my way, stand next to me and talk loudly on cell phones about things that bore me, or -- if they are young mothers equipped with strollers -- try to mow me down where I stand.

I admit that one of my favorite Christmas Eve rituals is going to crowded malls and watching desperate people in their one last fit of buying frenzy, usually motivated by the unexpected arrival of a relative they had crossed off their Christmas list.

But I, at least, try to stay out of the way.

Okay, I do enjoy an occasional slow, leisurely walk to my car, picking up three or four desperate parking vultures en route, only to put a package in the trunk, wave, and then return to the mall. But I only do that if I am in a bad mood.

Actually I do very little Christmas shopping. I buy, by telephone, the same gift for most of the people to whom I give gifts, leaving only one or two that I shop for.

I have very few close relatives, and with only one exception, a son in Gainesville, the few that I do have live far away. For instance, I have a sister who lives in Spokane, Wash. She probably lives in Spokane, in part, because she shares my feelings about chummy family get-togethers. Either way, it also cuts down on the gift list.

From what I saw of one of the area's high-end malls on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, it looks like there weren't that many crowds to dodge, unless you were at a Wal-Mart. That chain posted a one-day sales record of $1.43-billion, which indicates to me that most shoppers this year are thinking discount is the way to go.

I think that may be the wave of the future and am seriously considering changing my annual order of small boxes of Godiva chocolates to packages of tube socks, which are cheaper, more practical and healthier.

But if there is a disappointing retail season, we will be hearing plenty of doom and gloom during the coming weeks.

The economy may have been enjoying a mini recovery over the past couple of weeks, but I don't think that means everyone is ready to go out and splurge so that Junior can have the keys to a Porsche under the Christmas tree.

Too many of us have watched the amount of money we had set aside for a retirement home shrink to an amount that is barely enough for a down payment on tube of denture adhesive, and, in case the administration hasn't noticed, the unemployed don't spend money like people who actually have paychecks.

A national leadership anxious for war, short on answers about the future of the economy and long on rhetoric, doesn't do a lot to inspire what economic pundits call "buyer confidence."

It works just the opposite for me.

The more likely I am to become a casualty of war, a victim of a national economic meltdown, or to be barbecued by global warming, the less I worry about who will be holding the bag if I buy a new car or have that combination double-Jacuzzi bathtub/home entertainment center/wet bar installed.

The more creditors I leave behind when I shuffle off to that great writer's circle in the sky, the more I will giggle on the way, and if I go with preneed arrangements, you can bet they will have been charged to a credit card.

If more people felt as I do, lack of consumer confidence could become a positive factor and a new major indicator of good things about to happen, even if they would be what economists refer to as short-term gains.

As long as nobody can tell me what the long term holds, that would work for me.

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