SOUTH PORTLAND — Holiday retail sales, already under pressure from a shortened shopping season, faced another crunch as a possible ice storm loomed in the final days before Christmas.

The last weekend before Christmas is one of the busiest times during the holiday shopping season, second only to Black Friday, so bad weather could put a crimp in the crucial shopping time, analysts said.

“The storm is certainly a concern and something we have an eye on,” said Curtis Picard, executive director of the Retail Association of Maine. “One thing that softens my concerns is that Christmas is falling on a Wednesday this year, so people have Monday and Tuesday to shop if they get shut out on Sunday due to the weather.”

In 2008, an ice storm hit Maine just before Christmas and chilled holiday sales, Picard said.

“There’s still a lot of pent-up demand – people still have shopping to do, which is great,” Picard said. “Overall, this year we’re hearing really good numbers from merchants. The heavy, early snow this season actually helped with sales of winter gear and winter sporting equipment. We didn’t see that rush last year at this time because the snow didn’t come as early last year.”

The 2013 holiday shopping season was the shortest possible – just 26 days – because Thanksgiving fell later than normal, on Nov. 28.

Retailers generate between 20 percent and 40 percent of their annual business between Thanksgiving and Christmas, according to the National Retail Federation.

“We’re starting today and finishing today,” said Nicole Desmond of Biddeford, who was shopping at the Maine Mall in South Portland on Saturday. “We decided to come out today before the storm and just get it all done.”

Despite the long list of gifts she had to buy, Desmond said she was trying to spend less than she did last year, with the help of sales and store promotions.

Consumers are expected to spend an average of $738 on holiday shopping, a drop of 2 percent from last year’s per-person spending, according to the National Retail Federation.

Joe and Kathy Pecoraro of Limington also hit the mall on Saturday for some last-minute items ahead of the storm. They said they planned to spend about the same amount as last year on gifts for their large family, which includes four children and nine grandchildren.

Bobbie Carithers of Cumberland, Md., went to the mall with the mission of starting and finishing all of her shopping for the 10 people on her list.

“I’ve got to do it all today. I just got into town. I’ve got a list in my purse and I’m checking it off as I go,” Carithers said.

Meanwhile, at Target, shoppers seemed more interested in the store’s weekend discount than the company’s recent data breach.

Consumers packed check-out lines at the South Portland store on Saturday.

The theft of credit and debit card information from more than 40 million Target customers prompted the retailer to offer a 10 percent discount on purchases in its stores Saturday and Sunday.

The theft of the card data occurred from Nov. 27 through Dec. 15 and affected every Target store in the country, the company announced on Thursday.

“I’m not concerned,” said Michael Ladd of Portland, who shopped at Target in South Portland on Saturday. “You can’t be paranoid or you’ll never go shopping anywhere again.”

Sharon Stevens of Portland echoed those comments and said her biggest concern was getting her holiday shopping finished in time for Christmas.

“A discount is a nice bonus, but I’d be here anyway,” Stevens said.

Jessica Hall may be reached at 791-6316 or at:

[email protected]


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