Allison Wolf, 17, is making her list and checking it twice, matching her friends to a gift that is nice. Troll dolls? A 1993 calendar? The latest music CD? Or maybe a one-size-fits-all gift certificate.
As Christmas and Hanukkah loom nearer, teen-agers and preteens are saving their allowances, hoarding baby-sitting money and smashing piggy banks to buy presents for friends.
"You don't have to spend a lot of money," said Allison, a senior at Granada Hills High who has about 10 pals on her gift list. To cut expenses, she said, "sometimes a bunch of us will get together and go in on a gift or bake a bunch of cookies and brownies."
This season's youth pleaser could be a troll doll--those cute/ugly (depending on your point of view) plastic gnomes with electrically charged, neon-hued hair. Or it could be one of several hot-selling electronic games.
"Calendars are always good sellers, and anything from 'Beverly Hills 90210' is still hot," said Josie Cunes, manager of Rocs, a gift and card shop at Northridge Fashion Center that she said is popular with the 11- to 14-year-old crowd.
Rubber stamps and ink pads are good preseason sellers because youths enjoy making their own cards and party invitations, she said, while stuffed animals are easy sells for boys looking for gifts for female friends.
"Everyone still loves trolls," Allison said. "Beaded necklaces are popular, but a lot of people are making those now. Surf clothing, like ponchos, Birkenstock-type sandals, Cross Colours and B.U.M. sportswear are all still popular."
Sesame Street denizens Bert and Ernie, Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird are not limited to the preschool set, but are hip for Northridge teens as well, she said, since the new Sesame Street store opened in the local mall. "I'll want a Cookie Monster shirt," said Allison.
Anything that can be personalized, such as stationery or picture frames, is also popular, Cunes said. And when in doubt, there's always the ubiquitous gift certificate.
"Movie passes are cool because you can buy them at a discount and you always want to go to the movies," Allison said. "A gift certificate to the mall is really popular because you can spend it anyplace there."
Trevor Mackin, a seventh-grader at Holmes Middle School in Northridge, said baseball-style caps with favored team logos, books (especially scary stories) and electronic games are all items he will consider giving to his guy friends, while girls might rate a stuffed animal or a troll doll.
"Music's a great present if it's the right kind of music," Trevor said.
While adults might play it safe with a music gift certificate, "kids know what their friends like," said Bill Castro, manager of a Sam Goody record shop in the Glendale Galleria. "Junior high school kids tend to buy singles because they're cheaper, while older kids buy albums."
This season, he said, Madonna "will definitely" be a sellout. Other playlist leaders are Prince, Red Hot Chili Peppers, R.E.M., Expose, Huey Lewis and the News and Michael Bolton.
Teen-age girls can never seem to have enough casual clothing and accessories, said Lisa Nagato, manager of Contempo Casuals at Laurel Plaza in North Hollywood.
"They buy smaller, accessory-type items like earrings or necklaces or really general things like sweaters and tops," Nagato said, adding that their purchases are generally under $10.
Gift giving seems to appeal more to girls than guys. "Guys don't like to shop as much as girls," Cunes explained, and their holiday buying tends to be for female, rather than male, buddies.
When boys do buy for each other, they like to haunt electronic game centers. At Babbage's Glendale Galleria store, which sells electronic games such as Nintendo and Sega Genesis, about 65% of the shoppers are male, assistant manager Bob Hicks said.
"Boys most often buy sports games, while girls will buy whatever is popular at the time. When women are buying for boyfriends or husbands, they buy electronic games, but when they are buying for other women, they buy computer software."
Teen-agers appear to be coughing up their own gift money, spending anywhere from $5 to $20 per item.
"Our parents don't see any reason to give us money for this," Allison Wolf explained.
Teen-agers tend to shop in packs, retailers agreed, and sometimes take forever making a choice. "They're very picky," Cunes said with a sigh.
"Younger kids who buy singles, they're in and out in 10 minutes," added Sam Goody's Castro. "But those looking for albums look a little more. They also look for sales."
"It kind of takes a long time to pick something out, because I want to make sure I get the right gift," explained Trevor Mackin, who said he thinks "it's important to see their eyes light up when they like something. You get praise for giving a gift.
"But getting gifts," he added, "is a whole lot of fun too."