Maybe hitting stores during the holidays in Southern California has spoiled me. There is nothing like circling parking lots for hours during the week leading up to Christmas and waging battle with other drivers for that last available spot. Inside a typical Orange County mall, shoppers wage battles that make scenes from “Gladiator” look like a scrap between kindergarteners. Now that’s the Christmas spirit. You know you’ve got it when the steam starts to rise from beneath your collar because every store is sold out of the one item you need to stay in the good graces of your significant other for the next 364 days and when said item is nowhere to be found, you settle for a substitute that you hope will do the job but most likely won’t.
Sadly, such Christmas chaos is impossible to find in northern Nevada. Shoppers appear relatively calm and even — gasp! — polite. Store shelves seem well stocked and parking lots are a little fuller but still manageable. The Target at the Sparks Marina was fairly tranquil on Monday despite the snowy weather. You might say that a Monday is safe day to shop since most people will be at work earning the money needed to splurge on gifts, but my experience in a large metropolitan area taught me that no day in the month of December was safe. Any day ending in the letter ‘y’ during that fateful month was surely fraught with peril for any man,woman or child who dared set foot within a mile of a working cash register.
Such danger is nowhere to be found in northern Nevada, however. A report from a reliable source indicated that even the Meadowood Mall in Reno, one of the only mass shopping zones in the area, was only mildly busy just one week from the day to mindlessly exchange gifts. Parking spaces were available a mere 50 feet from the Macy’s entrance. The only crowd to be found was made up of confused men wandering through Victoria’s Secret. There were no reports of fists flying over quickly disappearing toys or places to park and not a single incident of wrap rage.
OK, so it’s not really that glamorous to get caught up in a shopping whirlwind that could easily end up in death or permanent injury. But it’s kind of fun. Stressing out over that perfect gift — or lack thereof — isn’t really fun, but going to the mall and getting caught up in the energy is fun. There’s something romantic about the decorations and the crowds and the shopping bags and bumping shoulders with thousands of strangers.
Maybe it’s because there just aren’t as many people in the Reno area but that energy isn’t here. Northern Nevada may be able to harness wind and solar power, but the power of the Christmas shopper would surely generate far more electricity than any windmill. At the mall entrance, just hook everybody up to a battery pack that stores their excess energy and collect them when they leave and we’d have enough to keep us going until next Christmas. Or at least enough energy to make up for what we waste on holiday lights.
Perhaps the energy shortage isn’t attributable to the area. This so-called recession might have something to do with it. All the gloom and doom news could be inspiring people to stuff money in their mattresses instead of into the coffers of America’s retailers. With money being tight, shoppers are trying to stretch the few dollars they do have to spend on gifts. A natural place to do this is at stores that are going belly up and selling off products at low prices. At least that’s what they are allegedly doing. A few months ago, such a promise lured me into the Mervyn’s in Carson City. A large sign promising to sell me clothes at unbelievable discounts prompted me to stop and look around. Sure enough, I found a nice sweater, a pair of pants and a package of undershirts, but when I left the store my credit card was sweating from the $65 workout. Sure, the price wasn’t horrible but the bargain hunter in me was sorely disappointed.
A similar report came to me from my girlfriend, who is a real ninja when it comes to bargain hunting. When she went to the everything-must-go sale at Circuit City in Spanish Springs, she found similar occurrences of closer fraud. In searching for cheap DVDs to use as stocking stuffers, she came across a copy of the movie “What Dreams May Come.” You might remember the flick: Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding Jr. (what ever happened to him, anyway?), made in 1998 about a guy who dies and heaven is this crazy place but he’s all sad because his wife isn’t there. The DVD was half-price, but the original price was listed as $21.99. What good is half off if the price is doubled?
It is sad to see all these businesses struggling, but all sympathy goes out the window when they attempt to stick it to customers as they’re swallowed up in financial quicksand.
So, it seems that the Internet is the last refuge for hectic Christmas shopping. The prices are usually pretty good even with shipping, and at least trying to outbid another buyer on eBay in the final seconds of an auction is a little bit like throwing punches.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to see if I can get still get my items shipped in time for Christmas. Happy holidays!
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.