'Twas the day after Thanksgiving and all through the Southland, shoppers were loosening their purse strings as the Christmas buying season got under way amid a whirl of sales and Santas.
By 7:30 this morning, the aisles at the Temple City K mart were so jammed with shopping carts that they were impossible to negotiate.
"This morning was outstanding," said assistant manager Thomas Etchells. "I went to a couple of competitors, and they're not even doing a quarter of the volume we're doing."
He couldn't begin to estimate how many early birds were taking advantage of the 7 a.m. opening, but, he said, "it feels like a million."
At the Nordstrom in Westside Pavilion, Linda Hoftyzer of Brentwood was at the door before the 8 a.m. opening "to beat the crowds." She's shopping later than usual this year and has noticed fewer things on sale. But with three teen-agers, she still expects to spend $1,000 or so on Christmas. "No matter how hard I try, it's always around that much," she said as she bolted down an aisle.
In the mall itself, the Santa Claus throne was ready for the expected onslaught of young lap-sitters. "Santa will ride through the mall on a zebra about 10:30," a young woman at the Santa picture booth said.
Attendants at the Beverly Center on the Westside were screening cars to ensure that employees weren't using valuable spaces designed for paying customers. "This morning we were turning away employees," said Gayle Kantro, the center's marketing director. Employees at the mall, notorious for parking snafus, will be relegated to four nearby lots during the entire Christmas season.
Elsewhere in the country, mild weather drew people in droves to downtown stores and malls, where they are expected to make it a merry Christmas for retailers.
Shoppers packed into malls, invaded ritzy and cut-price stores alike and strolled down famous shopping avenues to snatch up the items heavily advertised as the year's hottest gifts: "laser" guns; stuffed animals, both talking and mute; electronics, and ever-popular clothes.
"You know it's a good year when we start selling $300 to $400 crocodile belts and $2,000 to $3,000 handbags," said Michael Babcock, chairman of Filene's, one of Boston's largest retailers.
In Chicago, 1 million shoppers jammed downtown stores.
"Psychologically, the day is important," said Sara Bode, president of the Greater State Street Council. "All of a sudden people say, 'Hey, Christmas has started!' "