LUMBERTON — For many retail workers, the holiday shopping season can be dreadful — but not for Vanisha Smith, the manager of the Biggs Park Mall Rue 21 in Lumberton.
“It gets really hectic and most people don’t like working before Christmas,” Smith said. “I like it busy and I don’t mind it.”
The last two days before Christmas Day are the busiest shopping days of the season across the country. Fifty-three percent of consumers, or 126 million people nationwide, wait until the day before Christmas Eve to cross the final items of their lists, according to a recent survey by the National Retail Federation.
Shoppers in Robeson County looking for those last-minute gifts woke up early on Saturday morning donning green and red Christmas sweaters to browse the local stores. They join 88 percent of people across the nation who waited until the last two weeks before Christmas Day to finish shopping for friends and family.
Some even drove a distance to come take advantage of the shopping available in the county.
“I’m trying to find some last-minute gifts, probably at a better price,” said Belinda Epps, a Fayetteville resident. “Everyone has that one person who is hard to shop for because they’re so picky.”
For Epps, that one person is her sister. Although she doesn’t live in the county, Epps said she comes to Lumberton because there’s fewer people and better deals. Many of the stores in the mall are offering sales and deals to draw people into the stores, though they won’t have trouble having a profitable day.
At Bath and Body Works on Friday, the store sold $26,000 in merchandise and expected to reach $30,000 through Saturday. Those are their two biggest shopping days, when the store is bustling with folks looking for candles, lotion or other smell-good products to buy.
“It gets crazy,” said Autumn Gehle, manager of Bath and Body Works. “We start running out of stuff so it’s disappointing when people come in looking for it.
“We have loud Christmas music going, so it’s a good atmosphere because of the holiday.”
While Gehle spent much of her day helping others find their gifts, she said she hadn’t even finished her own shopping for her family. She’ll have a chance to do so between shifts in the next day or so.
Kim Jacobs from Pembroke was also looking for gifts for her children in the mall on Saturday morning. She thought about leaving town for shopping, but decided to stay local.
“I thought about going to Fayetteville this morning and I decided to come here, where I came the other night, where I knew they have what I wanted,” Jacobs said.
Nicholas Oxendine, the manager of Cowboys and Angels in the mall, said he loves to see people shopping at local stores in the county because it contributes to the health of small businesses like his own.
“They’re helping the local economy and the local workers,” Oxendine said. “Think about how many people who work in this mall are from the area.”
Even with the busyness of the stores, the main reason for coming to the mall for some wasn’t shopping at all. After looking around Tomlinson’s for one final gift, Sylvia Sanderson, her daughter and her grandson Garyn Locklear found a bench to wait for a special guest.
“We want him to see Santa before Christmas,” Sanderson said. “With our schedules we couldn’t take the time to do it because both of us work.”
Locklear, her grandson, expectantly awaited Santa’s arrival to his sleigh in the center of the shopping center. He wanted to ask him for a dirt bike and a paintball gun, two items he hopes to unwrap on Christmas Day.
No matter what need, county residents can find a gift, get into the holiday spirit or meet Santa Claus right here in the county. Biggs Park Mall will be open until 6 p.m. today, just a few hours before Santa Claus will make his way to Robeson County.
Jack Frederick can be reached at 910-416-5649.