Tri-City shoppers go down to the wire

By Michelle Dupler, Tri-City HeraldDecember 25, 2012 

The parking lot at Columbia Center mall buzzed with activity Monday as shoppers from the Tri-Cities and beyond scrambled to find last-minute gifts.

Cars circled or hovered as their drivers looked for choice spots as close to the doors as they could get in Monday's chilling temperatures.

Inside the mall, families walked hand-in-hand, smiling and carrying bags filled with goodies.

Dorothy LaMastus, a volunteer for the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls, said the gift-wrapping station the nonprofit operated as a fundraiser from Black Friday through Christmas Eve stayed busy all day with shoppers looking to have their purchases wrapped in festive paper and bows.

"The last four days have been very busy," she said. "It's been solid."

With a couple of hours left before the mall closed for the evening, LaMastus and her crew said they hadn't had much of a break all day.

"Six (o'clock) can't come fast enough," she said. "Then we're going to Red Robin to eat."

Down the corridor from the gift-wrapping station, Rodger York of Desert Aire relaxed in a chair while his wife shopped inside a department store.

Decked out in a Santa hat, red vest, white hair and a bit of a jolly belly, York occasionally would let out a joyous "Ho ho ho!" to the amusement of families walking by.

The only thing missing from his look was Santa's signature white beard.

"I get a lot of reaction from women and little kids," he said.

York said Herald he and his wife already had finished shopping for each other, but she was grabbing a few last-minute items for others.

Their plan for the holiday was to spend Christmas with friends from church, then head west to Portland and Vancouver later in the week to celebrate with their children and grandchildren.

They'll finish their holiday celebration at their beach house south of Lincoln City in Oregon -- where the couple will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary Saturday.

Enrique Lopez of Grandview also took a moment to relax. He sat in one of the mall's massage chairs with his son, Ryan, not quite 2 years old, bouncing on his knee.

Lopez said he came to the Tri-Cities on Christmas Eve to finish his shopping because there weren't as many shopping options in Grandview or Yakima, but he hadn't had time to make the trip until Monday.

"There wasn't time to get out," he said.

Lopez didn't want to divulge who he was shopping for or what he planned to buy for fear of spoiling a surprise for a loved one.

But when it came to shopping for Ryan, the toddler wanted just one thing.

"Toys," Lopez said. "He just wants toys."

Having the weekend to finish major shopping eased the tension for some Mid-Columbians, allowing them to use Christmas Eve to relax and have some fun.

Becky Stowe of Richland visited Columbia Center on Monday to take in a movie rather than shop. She said she did pretty much all of her holiday shopping over the weekend.

"I'm a teacher, so I wait until school gets out, then I get it done fast," Stowe said.

The mall wasn't the only place where shoppers looked for last-minute deals Monday. Small and local businesses throughout the Tri-Cities reported having Christmas Eve customers looking for small items or stocking stuffers.

At Octopus' Garden at the Uptown Shopping Center in Richland, customers were drooling over bacon-themed items at the novelty store, said owner Gus Sako.

"This year, like last year, the big trend has been various bacon-flavored things that probably shouldn't be bacon-flavored," Sako said.

That included bacon-flavored candy canes, mints and frosting, and items like ties or lunchboxes featuring the popular cured meat.

Items with mustache motifs also were popular kitsch this year, Sako said.

"It's just their time," he said.

At nearby Adventures Underground, an Uptown store featuring books, comics, games and toys, co-owner Amanda Divine said a lot of her customers have been buying science kits this year -- a relatively new item to the store.

She said business seemed a little bit slower on Christmas Eve this year than last year, but things still were pretty good.

"Everyone seems pretty relaxed, maybe a little tired," she said. "There were not too many people in a panic today."

Charlie Grigg of Grigg's Department Store and Ace Hardware said the Pasco department store kept busy on Monday selling a range of products, including power tools, sporting goods, guns and ammunition.

"It's always the same kinds of crowds -- husbands who didn't get something for their wives. It's the same people. We see them all the time," Grigg said.

The store has been a fixture in Pasco since the 1930s, and on Sunday had it's 50th last-minute Christmas sale, which featured extreme discounts on a different item once every hour.

"It's a fun event. It's different," Grigg said. "Lots of places have sales, but not just butchering prices on things."

One thing Sako, Divine and Grigg all have in common is being thankful for the Tri-Citians who support their businesses.

"We're fortunate to live where we live," Grigg said. "The economy is good. We've had a great year.

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