More stores make last-minute shopping easier

AKRON, Ohio — If you were snowbound the past couple of days or you’re just an excellent procrastinator, you may be in the need for a holiday gift today.

You’re in luck. Twenty years ago, you’d be hard pressed to find stores open on Christmas Day.

These days many are making the choice to cater to holiday revelers and travelers, picking up revenue other merchants choose to do without.

It is the busiest day of the year at the nation’s 130,000 gas and convenience stores, said Jeff Lenard, spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores, a trade group based in suburban Washington, D.C.

The shoppers come in three categories on Christmas Day — the travelers, the regulars and panicked gift givers searching for batteries or very-last-minute presents.

Profit margins on gasoline and cigarettes, which typically account for 75 percent of a convenience store’s revenue, have shrunk in the past year, Lenard said. As a result, storeowners are working harder than ever to increase sales in other areas such as food, household supplies and gift items.

“They’re doing what they can to grow that side of their business,” he said.

That means shoppers at convenience merchants this Christmas will find items once reserved for specialty stores and mass merchandisers.

Many convenience stores sell their own brand of gift cards or partner with other major retailers such as Blockbuster and Barnes & Noble, he said. No one has to know you didn’t pick up the card until Christmas Day.

Lenard has other ideas for presents that can be picked up at convenience stores:

Lottery tickets. If you’re lucky or they’re lucky, it could turn into a really spectacular Christmas present they’ll share with you.

Phone cards. They’re especially good for college students.

Disposable cameras. Older children and teens really enjoy getting these, he said.

Toys. Many convenience stores have toy trucks and cars in keeping with their motoring theme.

A winter car kit. Pack up a gift bag with the supplies every prepared driver should have — a scraper, windshield washer fluid, a flashlight and an extra pair of gloves, to name a few possibilities.

And here’s another idea. Why not a big bag o’ junk food for the couch potato on your list?

Just imagine: Twizzlers, Doritos, Ho-Hos and a Mountain Dew to wash it all down. Include a little note that says, “Go ahead, eat all you want.”

You can buy them a treadmill for New Year’s, if they live that long.

There are also some general merchandise stores open today. All Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid 24-hour stores will remain open around the clock. Walgreens’ other stores will be open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. A few CVS stores are also open, but call first.

These are much more than drugstores. They carry all sorts of gadgets, appliances, toys, beauty supplies, books and candy.

Most major video stores are open on Christmas, usually after noon. They sell videos, DVDs, games and even game systems as well as rent them. Not sure what the entertainment buff will like? Get a video store gift card.

If your new slippers are far too comfy to consider removing today, log onto your computer. Most major online retailers have electronic gift cards that can be sent in seconds.

Scott Krugman, spokesman for the National Retail Federation in Washington, D.C., said if all else fails, just print out a picture of the intended present, roll it up and tie it with a bow.

“It works, believe it or not,” said Krugman. “I’ve done it.”

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