It was the day before Christmas, and businesses were stirring across San Diego as busy shoppers filled boardwalks and stores in pursuit of last minute gifts.
People sipped coffees with one hand and held pre-wrapped gifts in the other as they walked across the streets of Little Italy. Others slid past one another as they worked their way through a bustling Target store in Mission Valley. A few could be heard asking shop owners in Ocean Beach about unique items at small mom-and-pop shops.
Shoppers and business owners noted that, despite the endless interweaving ribbons of vehicles and pedestrian traffic, there was a feeling of excitement and joy in the air.
“They’re just happy to be out, happy to find a parking spot, happy to be in beautiful San Diego,” said Ocean Beach Antique Mall co-owner Nancy Freeman, who runs the Newport Avenue store alongside her husband, Ken. “It’s a beautiful Southern California day that doesn’t get any better than this.”
The antique store owner noted a 20 to 30 percent increase in her business on Saturday when compared to previous Christmas Eves, a figure echoed by the owner of Mallory’s Furniture Gallery across the street.
“It’s our best Christmas yet,” said Steven Mallory, who owns the Newport Avenue business. “It’s been like the first season really after COVID.”
The sentiment of increased business this year falls in line with a report published by the National Retail Federation earlier this month that predicted 158 million consumers were expected to shop on the last Saturday before Christmas this year — this highest number since the NRF began tracking this data in 2016.
A large contributor to the newfound business, according to Freeman, was that people were traveling more this year and wished to buy their gifts after their airplanes landed.
“We’ve had a huge influx (of out-of-towners),” Freeman said. “From El Cajon, to Palm Springs, L.A., Montana, Maine. The day before yesterday I had a whole group of shoppers in from China.”
Traveling shoppers that fit this bill included Kate O’Brien and her husband, who traveled from Florida to visit her son and his friends in San Diego. They were among several perusing items that reminded them of their childhood on the Newport Avenue boardwalk.
“Anything ‘Christmas-y’ or that catches my eye,” said O’Brien when asked what she was purchasing.
Teddy Gowan, a Point Loma resident standing outside a jewelry store in Ocean Beach with his two daughters, said that he was waiting on his wife, who was picking out a gift for herself. The Gowans fought through the crowds on Friday to complete the bulk of their Christmas gift shopping.
“It’s calmer because we did all the chaotic stuff yesterday,” said Gowan.
A number of shoppers noted that the Christmas Eve shopping experience was more amicable than they expected. At Westfield Mission Valley, the Gregory family of Imperial Beach said they experienced 45 minute-long lines at the Las Americas outlets on Friday.
But Saturday was markedly different, said J.C. Gregory.
“It seems more relaxed, people are happy,” said Gregory. “Nobody is being pushy.”
Business owners said many last minute shoppers appeared to be looking for mid-range to lower cost items that could be easily purchased.
“In the winter, the week of Christmas is our busiest week; it’s kind of second to summer, our peak time,” said Lizzie DeLuca, store manager at Ocean Beach Surf and Skate. ”Today, it’s been a lot of t-shirts, sweatshirts and just the last minute holiday gifts.”
Freeman said that she hopes the feeling found this year, in people braving the holiday crowds with a smile on their faces, would be the norm for years to come.
“Just take a deep breath, enjoy yourself, enjoy the holiday season and be glad that we’re able to be out shopping,” Freeman said.