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Shoppers in last-minute rush at area retailers

The last-minute holiday shoppers at area stores on Monday were mostly male customers, and one of the owners of Elmquist Jewelers said that is the norm. In fact, some men do the same thing every year and seem to enjoy the excitement of the time crunch. Kevin Hanson, left, is assisted Monday by Greta Marti at Elmquist Jewelers in downtown Willmar as he shops for a Pandora charm. (Tribune photo by Gary Miller) 1 / 3
Jolene Schmitz discusses Monday some of the gift assistance she has provided to customers at JC Penney. (Tribune photo by Gary Miller)2 / 3
Nate Fremling, left, and Emily Ellingson shop Monday at Mill Pond Mercantile in New London. Retailers say the last-minute shoppers are usually men, but the women may be looking for one last thing to finalize the gift list. (Tribune photo by Gary Miller) 3 / 3

WILLMAR — Monday, the panic began to set in for last-minute Christmas shoppers.

And though it’s a cliché to say men wait until the last minute, retailers in the area said they were indeed seeing a lot of male customers on Monday.

Many said their last-minute sales would be topping off their good sales leading up to the holiday this year.

“Oh, it’s men’s day,” said Mike Noonan, co-owner of Elmquist Jewelry in downtown Willmar. In fact, the only woman shopping in the store early Monday afternoon was helping a man choose a gift. Noonan said a large majority of the customers today would be men, too.

He also expects some customers to show up at the very last minute, often the same ones every year.

“It’s fun for them,” Noonan said. “It’s part of the excitement.”

Dec. 23 and 24 are fun days, he said. “Everything’s done, everybody’s pretty happy.”

JC Penney store manager Cheryl Randleman said associates in the store are instructed to look for the wide-eyed shoppers on the verge of panic and offer suggestions.

Some of the more popular suggestions this year are fleece lounge pants for men, small electric appliances from kids to their mom, sleepwear and jewelry.

Gift cards are also popular, Randleman said, and Penney’s, like other retailers, has special incentive offers for those who buy gift cards.

At Mill Pond Mercantile in downtown New London, male customers were numerous on Monday.

There were enough men in the gift shop “to make the next one coming in the door feel at ease,” said co-owner Ginny Knapp. As with other businesses, she said that customers were in a good mood, for the most part.

Male customers are greeted and offered help with choosing a gift, Knapp said. Some turn to gift cards right away, while others try to find a gift.

“Our lady customers treat those gift cards like gold,” so it’s a good choice for someone who’s shopping for a regular customer of the shop, she said.

Along with the guys are the women who are shopping for “one more little special something,” to even out the number or the dollar amount of gifts for family members, Knapp said.

It could be a scarf or a piece of jewelry. The shop’s food products are popular, and a coffee or soup-and-bread gift basket can be a good choice, she said. The shop’s expanded Scandinavian collection has been popular this year, too.

Kristine Rodriguez of Willmar browsed through the Penney’s men’s department in the store at the Kandi Mall and had a few items draped over her arm as she looked for more.

She was just finishing up with a few things for her daughter and son-in-law, she said, and would be buying some gift cards for relatives, too.

The store’s remote-control cars and helicopters were so popular that the cars were all gone by mid-afternoon Monday, said sales associate Jane Quale of Kerkhoven. While some shoppers were truly in a shopping panic, “they’re still happy,” she said. Some of the last-minute things she had sold were pajamas, slippers and gloves.

Jolene Schmitz said she had helped a lot of grandmas looking for gifts at Penney’s, too. “They ask us what we have in this size,” she said. She often shows them what pieces would be worn together.

She had helped a son and daughter looking for Christmas gifts for their mom, Schmitz said. “I helped them with a piece of jewelry and oven mitts,” she said.

Jill Hanson, a goldsmith at Elmquist, and Noonan said they were still working on custom jewelry work for Christmas. He was making a pair of earrings on Monday, he said, and expected to see more custom orders before Christmas.

“If we have the capability and the materials, we’ll do it,” Hanson said.

Sometimes people ask them to wrap gifts in something other than the traditional gold box the jewelry store is known for, because it will be a tipoff. “We can accommodate them,” she said, but they do try to convince people to stick with the traditional wrapping.

“We, as women, like to see the gold box under the tree,” she said.

Gift cards are popular, too, but customers are more likely to purchase jewelry, they said.

Elmquist gives its male customers a hand with a Ladies Night held in November. They had 400 women attend this year.

“The whole goal is to find out what they like, and we write it down,” Noonan said. Then a husband can come in and choose something from the list. The store also tracks purchases, so a person can buy earrings one year and a matching pendant or bracelet a year later.

After Christmas “we get the people in if they missed Christmas,” Noonan said.

Couples will often come in shopping together after Christmas “if the vacuum cleaner didn’t cut it.”

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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