(MCT) — FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS — It's zero hour for Christmas, and St. Clair Square was jammed Sunday afternoon with last-minute shoppers.
Parking lots were crammed full and every store was hopping, as the mall extended shopping time four hours later than usual to accommodate procrastinators.
Paula Fritz, of Godfrey, and her two kids hit the mall to do the bulk of their shopping Sunday, as the holiday snuck up on them this year. "It's been so warm, and with warm weather you want to be outside," Fritz said as she rested a moment outside a videogame store. "With teenagers, too, they have so much going on."
Shelly Sisk, of Belleville, had to take her 13-year-old son, Adrian Davitz, to the mall on Sunday because he'd forgotten to get something for his sister. And Charles Hagler, of Belleville, was catching up quickly on his list, after work had been distracting him for weeks.
"Sometimes (Christmas) pops up on you real fast," he said. "For the last four days, I've been trying to get it all done."
That's not always easy -- some folks are hard to shop for, he said. So Hagler brought reinforcements: Maria Brown, of St. Louis, joined him at the mall just to help out, though her shopping has been done for a few weeks now.
"Now, if you ask me if they're wrapped yet, the answer is no," Brown said. "That's the part I dread the most."
Others put off the shopping for budget reasons; Chris Stricker, of Swansea, waited until his latest paycheck came in to finish shopping. He prefers real-life shopping to hunting for online bargains.
"I generally like to go to stores for Christmas," he said. "I'll shop online for birthdays or ordinary gifts, but I like to look for Christmas presents."
That's a bit different than the national trend; online retail sales reached $35 billion between Nov. 1 and Dec. 16, a 13-percent increase over the same period last year, according to industry tracking service ComScore.
Even in brick-and-mortar stores, the holidays are looking good: the National Retail Federation is projecting 2012 holiday sales to rise 4.1 percent from last year to more than $586 billion, its most optimistic forecast since the recession with more than half a million seasonal jobs.