It’s an annual tradition for South Boston resident Nick Johnson: Another year, another 11th-hour bout of holiday gift-getting.
“Last-minute shopping is the only kind of shopping I do,” said Johnson, 31, as he began to scour Back Bay storefronts for gifts. “Between work and all the holiday parties, it’s impossible to get out.”
Besides, he said, the last-second technique has its benefits: “Last year I just happened to stumble across a store that was having a huge sale,” Johnson said, “and I got, like, eight gifts for the price of one.”
As the holiday shopping season entered its final stretch on Saturday, local residents bustled through commercial streets and packed into malls on the prowl for the perfect gifts to fill out shopping lists.
This year’s holiday economic forecasts have been modestly optimistic — according to the Lexington forecasting firm IHS Global Insight, holiday spending this year is predicted to pick up 3.9 percent from last year.
And those expectations were evident along the Back Bay’s Newbury Street, where a steady trickle of late-morning shoppers became a deluge by early afternoon.
Some said that despite waiting until the last moment, they felt confident they would find gifts in time.
“I identified what I wanted to buy much earlier. I just didn’t have time until now,” said Dave Wood, 41, of Wayland. “I’m not really a Black Friday, mall kind of guy anyway.”
Jessica Knochin, a store manager at the ’47 Brand sports store, said the last-minute phenomenon is nothing new.
“We get more local people and fewer tourists,” she said, adding that more men hit the stores on the last days. “There’s also less foot traffic, but more buying.”
Knochin said she can empathize.
“I’m a master procrastinator; I can’t make myself do it,” she said. “You know there will be crazy last-minute sales going on anyway, so I’m not nervous.”
While stores looked busy on Saturday, Patrick Moscaritolo, president and chief executive of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, said holiday spending has been mixed this year. Corporate holiday events are about even with last year, about 25 percent down from before the recession.
International visitors coming to Boston for the holiday season are up by a whopping 12 percent. And among domestic visitors, he said, there are more day-trippers than overnight vacationers — a trend that, he said, could partially be attributed to growing fears about the looming fiscal cliff.
“You can tell that people are nervous,” Moscaritolo said. “It’s logical that they’ll be holding onto their money.”
Parking in Boston’s commercial districts, including the Back Bay, was free Saturday. However, sparse signs announcing the parking-fee holiday meant many paid anyway, and the electronic parking meters that line Newbury Street spat out stickers with no word to the wise.
Patti Varon, another manager at ’47 Brand, said the free street parking was a boost for business.
“If you don’t have to worry about time or the meter, you can just concentrate on shopping,” Varon said.
Parking, it turned out, was the theme of the day for preholiday shoppers. Natick police took to Twitter to warn residents about heavy traffic surrounding Natick Mall. Nine minutes later, the department sent out a second Twitter missive.
“To those frustrated by the traffic in and around the Mall: ‘No one raindrop thinks it caused the flood,’” read the message from the police department. “At least you’re sitting down.”
Still, many shoppers took their shopping complaints to the world of social media.
“The CambridgeSide Galleria is a special kind of hell today,” wrote one user, while another who visited the Cambridge shopping center declared, “Never again. Holy mall.”
At Burlington Mall, the tweets sounded even more panicked.
“Aaiii the Burlington mall is PACKEDDD!!!!!!” wrote one.
“Shoutout to the burlington mall for being the most populated place in [Massachusetts] right now,” wrote another.
And: “Well, I’ve stumbled into the apocalypse. Burlington mall, three days before Christmas #saveyourselves.”
But some came to their Burlington Mall experience with a certain amount of resignation.
“I feel like it just comes with the territory, coming to the mall this late on a Saturday,” said Semo Ongondo, 27, of Andover, who had just started her holiday shopping.
It’s a strategy, she said: Though the mall was crowded and the lines were long, pre-Christmas deals were worth putting up with a little holiday shopping madness for.
Lizbet Pelayo, 28, of Waltham, stopped in for two last-minute gifts: a watch for her niece and a sweatshirt for her husband. The late shopping trip was an anomaly for her, she said.
“I do everything with time, usually three weeks or a month before Christmas,” she said. “There are a lot of people in here.”
But for Nick Badgley, 41, of Waltham, starting his shopping on Dec. 22 actually put him ahead of his usual game.
“I usually do it the day before or the day of Christmas Eve,” he said.
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