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Last-minute shoppers look to bag bargains

Andy and Jeffrey Cruz, of Brooklyn, have packages

Andy and Jeffrey Cruz, of Brooklyn, have packages wrapped as shoppers fill the halls of the Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City. (Dec. 23, 2012) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Malls and shopping centers across Long Island were crowded Sunday with holiday shoppers looking for last-minute deals on clothing, electronics and other gifts destined for a place underneath the Christmas tree.

The last-minute shoppers were a mix of people who revel in the large crowds, traffic jams and sometimes rock-bottom prices that accompany shopping two days before Christmas, and, according to analysts, those who have been distracted by economic concerns and events such as superstorm Sandy and the Connecticut school shooting.

At Roosevelt Field mall, Liz Ramos, a stay-at-home mom from Maspeth, Queens, said her shopping list was simple:

"Sale -- anything that's on sale," said Ramos, 40.

Consumers in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, which account for 24 percent of retail sales nationwide, were tripped up by superstorm Sandy, and across the country shoppers also are worried about Jan. 1 tax increases and spending cuts that may be triggered by a "fiscal cliff" stalemate.

Marshal Cohen, chief research analyst at NPD Inc., a market research firm with a network of analysts at shopping centers around the country, estimates that customer traffic over the weekend was in line with the same time a year ago, but shoppers seem to be spending less.

"There was this absence of joy for the holiday," he said. "There was no Christmas spirit. There have been just too many distractions."

ShopperTrak on Wednesday cut its forecast for holiday spending down to 2.5 percent growth to $257.7 billion, from prior expectations of a 3.3 percent rise.

The recent Newtown, Conn., school shooting also dampened shoppers' spirits, analysts said.

Deborah O'Conner, 51, from Westwood, N.J., was at Garden State Plaza in New Jersey on Saturday finishing her holiday shopping. She spent all last month helping out her parents and her cousin, whose Long Island home suffered damage.

"I had planned to be out early, but it didn't happen," O'Conner said "If it weren't for the storm, I would have been done."

George Barnes stopped for a smoothie at Roosevelt Field as he shopped for his niece and nephew.

"I always try not to spend a lot, but that never happens," said Barnes, 37, a booking agent from Manhattan, who gripped bags from Macy's and Foot Locker. "I can't help myself. I'll probably shop all night and into tomorrow."

Impending precipitation could also dampen spending. Christmas probably won't be a white one on Long Island, but it might be a wet one.

A system passing the area will create some light showers Monday night into Tuesday morning, but temperatures will likely be too warm for snow, according to meteorologist David Stark in the National Weather Service's Upton bureau.

Christmas will be in the mid-40s and mostly cloudy.

Attempting to drum up enthusiasm, retailers have expanded hours and stepped up discounts. Toys R Us stores were staying open for 88 consecutive hours beginning Friday at 6 a.m. through Monday night at 10 p.m. With Jennifer Barrios and AP

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