Running Out the Clock

You’ve gone and done it again. You’re still shopping for gifts at this late date, and you’re going to need some time-saving strategies from expert shoppers such as Andy Selesnik, marketing director at Westfield SouthPark Mall, and Joan Renee Cervino, a personal shopper and owner of wardrobe-consulting service Shopgirl. Here’s what they advise for all you last-minute shoppers out there:

Be prepared. Before you go, prepare not only a list of who you want to buy for and how much you want to spend, but also a shopping route so you won’t have to backtrack, Cervino recommends. Choose stores for your route that will allow you to find multiple gifts in one stop. It’s also wise to do some research on specific gift ideas in advance by calling the stores to ensure the items are in stock, says Selesnik.

Make the impersonal personal. Gift cards are a great last-minute solution, says Selesnik, but package them with a related gift for a more personal touch. For example, wrap a bag of flavored popcorn with movie tickets and a close-by restaurant gift card, or pair a Grady Sizemore jersey with an Indians ticket voucher.

Shop in teams.
If the sweater you want to buy Mom is sold out at the SouthPark Macy’s, ask a friend on the East Side to pick it up at the Beachwood Place Macy’s. “Everyone’s shopping at the same time, so people are usually willing to help each other out,” says Selesnik.

Pack appropriately. Eat before you go — “a full stomach helps ward off irritability,” says Cervino —and pack a caffeinated beverage and water for the trip. Dress in layers so you can be comfortable as you head in and out of stores.

Smile, and enjoy it. “Gift-buying should be an enjoyable experience, not a chore,” says Cervino. “Expect the crowds and try to relax.” Selesnik is usually either working or shopping at the mall on Christmas Eve, and reports that it’s actually a pretty fun day to shop. “Everyone’s late and they know it, but they’re pretty laid back about it,” he says.

Just when you’re ready to leave the mall and never go back, don’t forget that returns season is right around the corner. Returns can be a snap, though, if you’ve stayed organized throughout the holiday shopping season and follow these helpful tips from Andy Selesnik, who’s both marketing director for Westfield SouthPark Mall and a die-hard shopper:

Don’t bag the receipt. Always take receipts from the cashier and create a system to organize them, says Selesnik. He puts receipts in his wallet, writes the names of the gifts’ recipients on them and places them in a special holiday receipt box at home, making it a snap to find them come return season.

Check return policies. Don’t assume they’re all the same. Inquire about the last day the item can be returned and whether purchases made in Cleveland can be returned at locations elsewhere.

Schedule a reminder. When he purchases something with a limited return policy, Selesnik programs his BlackBerry to remind him when the last return date is approaching so he can remind the gift’s recipient.

Wait a while. As eager as you may be to get those returns out of the way, don’t hit the mall the day after Christmas. Unless you’re solely out for sales, advises Selesnik. “Wait a week or so, if you can, to start making returns,” he says.

How To: Celebrate with Seasonal Ingredients
So you’ve put off planning the holiday meal? Don’t fret — the experts do it, too. “I’m a big procrastinator. I usually come up with my holiday menu the night before,” says Matthew Anderson, an instructor at the International Culinary Arts & Sciences Institute in Chesterland and executive chef at Sapore, the school’s restaurant.

But even the night before, Anderson insists you can still whip together a meal for a crowd that they’ll think you planned for weeks. The key is focusing on seasonal, easy-to-find ingredients that don’t require advance ordering or days of defrosting. So from one procrastinator to another, we present Anderson’s last-minute holiday menu. Get all of the recipes for Matthew Anderson’s Procrastinator’s Holiday Menu at
Winter Squash Soup with Maple Butter
Fennel and Frisee Salad with Dried Cranberries, Feta, and Citrus and Balsamic Vinaigrette
Herb- and Garlic-crusted Turkey Breast and Herb Turkey Velouté
Sweet Potato Chestnut Risotto
Seared Brussels Sprouts
Roasted Root Vegetables
Caramel Pumpkin Flan
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