"We try not to," Charlene said of last-minute gift buying, "but it just kind of ends up that way."
Across Utah and the nation, bargain hunters, procrastinators and shopaholics descended upon stores Saturday in one last, frenzied burst of holiday commerce. The Saturday before Christmas is typically the second busiest shopping day of the year. Shoppers and retailers felt added pressure this year with a Yuletide retail season six days shorter due to a late Thanksgiving.
Things started off slowly at the JCPenney in Valley Fair Mall on Saturday morning but soon picked up as the clock wound toward lunchtime. The store, like many others, extended its hours for the holidays. Store manager Elizabeth Maack said it's a great time of year for retailers, with shoppers determined to buy gifts and acting more decisively than normal.
"You're not in retail if you don't love this time of year," Maack said between making sure tables were stocked, checking on staff and wiping a spot of mud off the floor. "Your days fly by. If you hated it, you would leave."
Many shoppers purposefully waited for the weekend before Christmas to shop, looking to save cash.
Celeste Brady, of Tooele, her baby and her parents hit the stores together on a quest for gifts for Brady's husband.
"It stresses her out," she joked about her mother, "but I think it's fun, and you can get better deals." Her nearly 1-year-old daughter, Zoe Brady, pulled a pile of women's purple panties off a shelf and onto the floor as her mother spoke.
Maya and Israel Vazquez, of West Valley City, chose Saturday to start their holiday buying.
"We haven't done any Christmas shopping whatsoever," Maya Vazquez said. She said the couple would shop all day for their five kids if they had to.
"I always wait for the last check before Christmas,'' Vazquez said. "I want to make sure all my bills are paid before I go out and spend for Christmas."
For some, however, the 11th-hour trip to the mall was accidental.
Teresa Stoddard, visiting Utah from Washington, finished her shopping a week ago, but she made a surprise retail foray Saturday to pick up stocking stuffers for a friend who hadn't finished Christmas shopping after she broke her ankle.
Tyson Wright, of Salt Lake City, also thought he had avoided the rush by buying gifts online. "You don't have to go out in the crowds," said Wright, who works in construction, of online shopping, "and it just gets sent to them."
Yet there he was Saturday, waiting as his mother returned a gift.