Starlight shoppers roam deserted, 24-hour aisles

Published Dec. 24, 1999|Updated Sept. 30, 2005

Late at night, the other holiday shoppers come out: those who hate crowds, can't sleep, work nights or who just like the more relaxed pace.

For some, the mall at this time of year is just a colossal house of pain. It pulls procrastinating, credit-card-carrying zombies. They come, some with glazed eyes, trolling for parking spaces and enduring long lines.

And even with the extended mall hours, the party's over at about 10 p.m.

What about the serious procrastinators?

For them, 24-hour neon retail meccas can be heaven on earth. They own the parking lot.

At this time of year Wal-Mart and some drugstores such as Eckerd are the equivalent of the all-night greasy spoon for the bargain-hungry, attracting gift-hunters at all hours. In the middle of the night, they are the only game in town.

Around midnight Tuesday at the Eckerd store at Curlew Road and U.S. 19, two women who would identify themselves only as the "10 o'clock shoppers" said they venture out to buy gifts starting at 10 p.m. because, as one of the women put it, they don't want to be pushed around and have things taken out of their hands by other customers.

They were buying York candy and a cookie tray. No one bothered them or attempted to take their candy.

One aisle over, Janis Catapano couldn't decide which ornament to buy for her 2-month-old grandson, Noah. The mouse dangling precariously from a snowflake or the teddy bear with the inscription "Baby's First Christmas."

She chose the teddy bear.

"I just got out of work and thought I'd stop and shop," Catapano, who works at a telemarketing firm, said. "There are no crowds, no lines. It's on my way home."

Over at the Wal-Mart in Palm Harbor, Stephanie Walker, who said she's a housewife, stood tired-faced outside of the store with her sister, Susan Heisler, surrounded by a cartful of bagged items, some of which were destined to be wrapped up and put under the tree for her two little girls.

"The only thing that's gone right this holiday is that Wal-Mart's been open," she said. "They don't have everything, but they have good deals. At this time of year, you're not going to find what you're looking for anyway."

It had been a long day for Walker and Heisler; after getting their nails done, they went to a mall for a six-hour shopping marathon. When the malls closed they drove to Wal-Mart to finish up.

Walker, who said she's "pretty close to done" with her shopping, bought some camouflage hunting clothing and a magazine for her husband, who likes to hunt deer.

"I've never shopped this late," she said. "But it's really nice. You're not rushed because of closing time."

Near one of the checkout counters Brenda Stokes, a customer service manager, was putting returned items into shopping carts, preparing them to be placed back on the shelves.

For the past five months she has been working the night shift: 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. She said she likes to sleep and "wouldn't like to go out in the middle of the night to go shopping." But she observes others who do.

"Sunday night, we were slammed until 2:30 a.m.," she said. "People were spending lots and lots of money. They want to get it done and go home."

Toward the middle of the store Joe Crapanzano of Palm Harbor was driving his cart filled with wrestling figurines, statues, bath items and a Pokemon video down the book aisle.

For weeks, he has been on a nightly buying mission for his family, which includes his wife and three small children.

"I've done all the shopping for years _ everything," he said. "It's a ritual."

Crapanzano, a real estate investor, wasn't dreaming of a good night's sleep; an insomniac, he can't get one anyway.

"I can't sleep so I try to do things instead of sitting around," he said. "I don't like the crowds, so this is the best time to go."

He said he wishes other stores would be open 24 hours a day around the holidays.

"My son wants a book that a wrestler wrote, an autobiography," he said. "I don't think they (Wal-Mart) have it."

He said he had just 10 minutes of shopping left to do. But it was after 3 a.m. He was still facing a long, lonely stretch of nighttime, a nightmare for an insomniac. What would he do?

"I'll probably wrap," he said.

A few aisles over, James Murphy was shopping for his two children. He was alone. His wife died two years ago at 36 of a brain disease.

Murphy was not stressed out about having to be at work the next morning. He works at home doing medical billing.

In his cart was a pair of shorts and a compact disk for his 10-year-old son, and body mist for his 13-year-old daughter.

"I wanted to avoid the shoppers, but now I have to avoid the boxes," Murphy said, motioning toward a pile of cardboard boxes filling the aisle. "But it's better than people."

Amanda Marie, 18, got off from her job as a telemarketer at midnight and decided to team up with her mom, Sharon Byrd, for some late-night shopping.

"There's nobody here. People are rude during the day," Marie said. "They get all pushy with their carts."

She was carrying a stuffed animal for herself and a peach-scented candle for a friend.

Laurie Matthews of Odessa is a waitress who works odd hours. She was at Wal-Mart at 2:30 a.m. to buy a See and Say toy for a friend's daughter. She admitted she is a procrastinator when it comes to Christmas shopping.

"It's just me and 10,000 men at the mall on Christmas Eve," she said, laughing.