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Ship movements delayed the Christmas shopping for Petty Officer 3rd Class Kevin White, who stopped in Yokosuka's Navy Exchange on Friday and was assisted in picking out a gift by jewelry department clerk Cel Harris.
Ship movements delayed the Christmas shopping for Petty Officer 3rd Class Kevin White, who stopped in Yokosuka's Navy Exchange on Friday and was assisted in picking out a gift by jewelry department clerk Cel Harris. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)
Ship movements delayed the Christmas shopping for Petty Officer 3rd Class Kevin White, who stopped in Yokosuka's Navy Exchange on Friday and was assisted in picking out a gift by jewelry department clerk Cel Harris.
Ship movements delayed the Christmas shopping for Petty Officer 3rd Class Kevin White, who stopped in Yokosuka's Navy Exchange on Friday and was assisted in picking out a gift by jewelry department clerk Cel Harris. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)
Daphne Chery picks up some last-minute items for a Christmas party Friday at the Navy Exchange at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan.
Daphne Chery picks up some last-minute items for a Christmas party Friday at the Navy Exchange at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)
Daphne Chery buys some last-minute items for a Christmas party Friday at the Navy Exchange.
Daphne Chery buys some last-minute items for a Christmas party Friday at the Navy Exchange. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)
This year marks Naoko Katahira's second Christmas celebration. The Yokosuka spouse was looking for ways to add some holiday flourish to her home Friday at the Autoport.
This year marks Naoko Katahira's second Christmas celebration. The Yokosuka spouse was looking for ways to add some holiday flourish to her home Friday at the Autoport. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Pushing a cart full of gifts and rolls of paper to wrap them in, April Dennis strode through Yokosuka’s Navy Exchange on Friday with purpose and peace of mind.

Sure, it’s four days before Christmas. But waiting is part and parcel of the USS Lassen spouse’s Christmas shopping strategy.

“I wait so I can hit the sales,” she said.

Exchanges across the Pacific were a flurry Friday with shoppers observing a tradition as old as the holiday itself: last-minute Christmas shopping.

Retailers count on wild-eyed, darting shoppers every year. Retail information collector ShopperTrak calls the five days before Christmas the biggest sale days of the season.

Yet retailers dangle decoys of discounts and extended hours weeks before to help prevent such shopping stress, said Yokosuka Navy Exchange retail manager Rusti Rausch.

“Every year, we try something — last year it was late hours,” Rausch said. “This year it was early-morning sales. But there’s always people who wait to the last minute.”

There are reasons for such tardiness, people said Friday, as shopping in Japan and deployments pose added wrinkles.

USS Mustin sailor Petty Officer 3rd Class Kevin White didn’t have much of a choice. His ship just pulled in a few days ago, and it’s not easy to Christmas shop when you’re out in the middle of the sea, White said.

“I usually plan ahead, but there isn’t much you can do,” White said.

But he’s figured out a way around the system. Besides the glittering objects he picked up at the Navy Exchange’s jewelry counter Friday, he said he also stocks up during port visits on gifts for his wife “that she won’t be expecting.”

Spouse Naoko Katahira has celebrated Christmas only twice, but she learned her lesson the first time around, she said.

“Last year I waited, and none of my packages came on time, plus the store was sold out of everything,” Katahira said. “But I know the Japanese employees are trying their hardest to help us celebrate the holiday, and this is a good time of year to recognize that.”

Whether home for the holidays or in Japan, Petty Officer 2nd Class Kiyana Hicks said she would be doing the same thing — procrastinating.

The USS Curtis Wilbur sailor wouldn’t have it any other way, she said.

“Last-minute shopping makes Christmas more exciting,” Hicks said. “Rushing around, being busy makes it feel like Christmas is here.”

What's hot this season

Four of the top five sellers at Yokosuka’s Navy Exchange are electronics, retail manager Rusti Rausch said.

Nintendo’s Wii is the leader for the second straight year, with plasma televisions, digital cameras and iPods close behind, Rausch said.

The only nonelectronic gift in the top five is women’s handbags.

“Coach bags are our No. 2 seller,” Rausch said. “There’s a certain prestige that comes with owning a Coach bag.”

And for all the new-fangled gadgets that whirl and beep, Rausch also has seen a nostalgic upsurge in “old-school” gifts, such as cotton candy makers and old-fashioned popcorn machines, she said.

For children, toy recalls have made parents more discriminating, she said. To help them track all of the different recalls, the NEX has a book for shoppers to peruse at the customer service desk.

Kids these days are also more discriminating on the receiving end, she said.

They want their electronics.

“Kids aren’t kids anymore,” Rausch said. “You can’t fake them out with a candy cellular phone — they want the real thing.”

— Allison Batdorff

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