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Orange County Foucs / Holiday Shoppers' Guide

Costa Mesa/Newport/Irvine : There Are Ways to Reduce the Stress

November 25, 1993|ROSE APODACA

Gift shopping during the holidays can turn even the most resilient of shoppers into basket cases.

There's the traffic that turns the roads into parking lots and the parking lots into a demolition derby. Where the population once spread out over the land, it now unites and stampedes to the mall, which in turn becomes a human version of an ant farm.

Unlike the ants, most folks at the mall have no mission. Sure, they have come to do their Christmas shopping. But what to buy? With a lunch hour here and a Saturday morning there, this seemingly easy and enjoyable task of giving is stretched out or avoided, and the nearer the Big Day gets the faster the stress level rises.

Before psyching yourself into a frenzy, consider the following expert tips from professional shoppers and consultants.

"A list is the most important thing you can do," says Billur Wallerich, a spokeswoman for Neiman Marcus Fashion Island. "Have specific persons and items you want for them designated before you shop." To save time and energy, Wallerich suggests calling ahead to ensure that what you want is available. "Think of it as a sort of fact-finding mission."

When compiling the list, Penny Newman, designer wardrobe coordinator (a.k.a. personal shopper) for Nordstrom at South Coast Plaza, underscores considering the personality of the person receiving the gift. "We always hear people say, 'This is something she'd never buy herself.' Well, don't they realize that's probably because she would never want to buy it for herself?"

Indeed, warns personal shopper Doris Maes of Cypress: "Be careful of buying something that is your own taste and not theirs."

Don't fear requesting a "wish list" from your family and friends. Not only does it eliminate the frustrating guesswork, they say, it ensures that your purchase is the "perfect gift."

Next, Newman says to take into account the maximum amount you are willing to spend and post that figure alongside each person's name on the list as a reminder. Strictly adhering to a budget will keep you from going overboard--which seems to plague most shoppers armed with credit cards.

Extravagant gifts are no longer in vogue during these weary economic times, says Deborah Keillor, co-owner of Jacob Keillor, a Newport Beach-based service that offers fashion consulting and home shopping statewide and in New Mexico and Arizona. "When you're shopping for somebody, take the practical route," she says, noting that most people are more apt to appreciate something they can use.

After confirming the specific items on your list via the telephone, you head down to the stores to pick them up and to search for those gifts you just couldn't come up with while forming The List. But keep in mind just how much you're willing to shell out when you do find the right present.

"Shop alone," says Newman. "When you get too many opinions, you take too long. No guts, no glory. This is the time to be expeditious, so go by your instincts."

Although making a quick decision is a goal, making a wrong one isn't. "Eat lunch. Don't let yourself get cranky; you'll make bad decisions," Newman says. A bag filled with hard candy or dried fruit hidden in your purse or backpack can keep you focused in a dizzying mall.

Of course, the headaches associated with going to a mall can be avoided by just staying out of them altogether, says Keillor. "I find that most people now are looking for things that are unique, and no one likes to spend the prices at the malls. The trend now is to go to specialty boutiques and home shopping services." The second alternative, which is part of Keillor's business, involves a representative coming to your home or office with merchandise, usually clothes and accessories.

Another option is catalogue shopping, says Wallerich. "One of the most valuable tools is the gift-giving catalogues." Besides filling your own shopping needs, she says it's "a great guide to pass on to your spouse with what you want noted."

Wallerich and others advise holding on to receipts and inquiring about exchange and return policies.

And if all else fails, there are professionals who can come to the rescue. They don't wear red velvet suits and white beards, but they will buy, wrap and deliver your holiday cheer. Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bullocks have these services year-round; once a contact is established an order can be made by telephone or fax. Independent personal shoppers such as Maes offer the same kind of service, whereas Keillor will personally come to you with the goods.

FASHION ISLAND

* Height of Christmas tree: 90 feet

* Stroller/wheelchair rental: Yes/yes

* Cost of photo with Santa: $5.95

* Santa's gift: Sticker sheets

* Mall gift certificate: Yes

* Gift wrap: Yes

* Valet parking: Yes

* Post office: Yes

* Concierge/info desk: Yes

* Number of temporary stores: 4

* Mall security: Yes

* Best way to get in: Jamboree Road to Santa Barbara Drive or Coast Highway to Newport Center Drive.

SOUTH COAST PLAZA

* Height of Christmas tree: 40 feet

* Stroller/wheelchair rental: Yes/yes

* Cost of photo with Santa: $7

* Santa's gift: Candy canes

* Mall gift certificate: Yes

* Gift wrap: Yes

* Valet parking: Yes

* Post office: Yes

* Concierge/info desk: Yes

* Number of temporary stores: 9

* Mall security: Yes

* Best way to get in: Avoid Bristol Street exit from the San Diego Freeway. Use Fairview Road exit north to South Coast Drive; go east to the mall. Coming south on the Costa Mesa Freeway, take MacArthur Boulevard exit west to Bristol Street, then south to the mall. For Crystal Court, turn west on Sunflower Avenue to mall.

CRYSTAL COURT

* Height of Christmas tree: 60 feet

* Stroller/wheelchair rental: No/yes

* Cost of photo with Santa: $6.50

* Santa's gift: Candy canes

* Mall gift certificate: Yes

* Gift wrap: Yes

* Valet parking: No

* Post office: Yes

* Concierge/info desk: Info telephone

* Number of temporary stores: 7

* Mall security: Yes

* Best way to get in: See South Coast Plaza

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