Despite the dreary weather, holiday shoppers were out in force Wednesday buying last-minute gifts and stocking stuffers.

Ellie Baker, a Cape Elizabeth resident, wasn’t going to let a little rain keep her from her last-minute shopping.

She was standing in line at Treehouse Toys in Portland’s Old Port with her arms wrapped around a half-dozen stuffed animals destined for the stockings of her children, grandchildren and even her 87-year-old mother.

“I love being in the holiday spirit through the end of the season, which means I like last-minute shopping in the Old Port, Freeport and a little bit at the mall,” she said.

Shoppers like Baker, an accountant and managing partner at Baker Newman Noyes in Portland, are an encouraging sign for local store owners and managers, several of whom said Wednesday that they were having a very good holiday shopping season.

“This holiday season is stacking up to be one of the best we’ve ever seen,” said Topher Mallory, CEO of Mexicali Blues, which has six retail stores around the state, including two in Portland’s Old Port. Mallory declined to share sales figures, but said he expected sales to be a “significant percentage” increase over last year.

Kazeem Lawal, owner of Portland Trading Co. on Middle Street in the Old Port, also reported a strong holiday shopping season.

“It’s pretty good,” he said. “Better than last year.”

He has two words in response to the question why: “Cheap gas!”

“That was the easiest question of the day for me.”

It’s not that people are consciously tracking the extra dollars in their bank accounts because they saved $10 here and $5 there when filling up their tanks. Lawal said he thinks it’s because the news media have covered the issue, which gets people feeling more confident and flush with extra cash when they go out shopping.

“It’s a psychological thing,” he said.

Sales have been strong, as well, at LeRoux Kitchen on Portland’s Commercial Street, according to Suzie Rephan, the store’s manager.

“It’s been a very good holiday season,” she said, the line of customers waiting patiently with gifts of colanders, small-batch chocolate bars and premium kitchen knives serving as evidence.

She wouldn’t go so far as to say it could be their best year ever, but said customer traffic has been steady, especially on Saturday. Historically, the last Saturday before Christmas has been the store’s busiest day of the year.

Rania Levine, manager of Treehouse Toys, said the season seemed to have a slow start, but that it’s picked up enough that she expects the store to ring up more sales this holiday season than last.

“People are more excited about spending more money,” Levine said, adding that Portland’s strong buy-local movement probably has something to do with it.

Something else that both Rephan and Levine noted is that shoppers seem happier.

“It’s felt more chipper,” Rephan said. “People have been friendly and more relaxed … up until today.”

That lack of stress could be because people got an early start to the Christmas shopping season. A National Retail Federation survey of 6,165 consumers found that the average holiday shopper had completed 52.9 percent of his shopping as of Dec. 10, up from 49.9 percent last year.

Mallory, Levine and Rephan are not alone in their anecdotal takes on the strength of the holiday season. Curtis Picard, executive director of the Retail Association of Maine, is hearing from members throughout the state that the holiday shopping season has shaped up to be one of the best in recent memory.

“Right now I’m really feeling optimistic about how the whole shopping season is going,” Picard said Tuesday.

Picard said two factors are at play: falling fuel prices and good weather.

When filling up his car, Picard said he’s saving $20 to $30 a week on gas. “That’s a game changer for a lot of people,” he said.

And the weather, while rainy, is more conducive to shopping than the storms that hit Maine last year during the last weekend before Christmas. Portland received 26.2 inches of snow in December 2013, making it the ninth-snowiest December on record, according to the National Weather Service in Gray.

“Last year at this time I was probably sitting here without power in single-digit weather,” he said.

Nationally, retail sales during November and December are projected to increase 4.1 percent over last year, to $616.9 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. It would be the first time since 2011 that an annual increase topped 4 percent.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if you see reports higher than that when all is said and done,” Picard said. “I don’t have hard numbers to back it up, but it’s just from being out and about and talking to folks.”

National holiday sales have grown an average of 2.9 percent over the past 10 years, including 2014’s estimates, and are expected to represent about 19.2 percent of the retail industry’s annual sales of $3.2 trillion, according to the National Retail Federation.

Large chain retailers also are reporting positive signs. Alton Walker, regional manager for Bon-Ton stores in the Northeast, said he’s been pleased with the performance of their store at the Maine Mall, which opened in September 2013. Since it’s only the store’s second holiday shopping season, he wasn’t sure what to expect.

“I think we’ve seen some real positive sales this holiday shopping season,” Walker said. “I think the economy getting better has really helped customers get back out and shopping again, and I think we’ve benefited from that.”

He said gas prices are part of the big picture, but not solely responsible for getting shoppers to open their pocketbooks wider.

“It’s just one more cog in the wheel, if you will, of the customer’s perception that the economy is getting better and stronger and so consumer confidence is coming back,” Walker said Wednesday. “Customers like to spend money, they like to shop. I think that’s one of the things in our culture we enjoy doing, particularly this time of year.”

Another factor that can’t be ignored when discussing shopping trends is the effect of online retailers.

Online sales during the same two-month period are expected to increase between 8 percent and 11 percent and top $100 billion for the first time, according to, the National Retail Federation’s online division.

Shoppers such as Leslie Tremberth, a South Portland resident, have embraced the ease of e-commerce. She was in Treehouse Toys on Wednesday morning doing some last-minute shopping for her best friend’s son, but she admits she did “almost all” her holiday shopping this year on

Honestly, she hates shopping, she said. So shopping online helps her avoid that unpleasantness. It also saves her time, which has allowed her to have a less hectic holiday season.

“It’s given me more time to listen to music, to cook and enjoy the holidays,” she said.