‘Tis the weekend before Christmas, and retailers across Greater Waco are hoping for a tidal wave of last-minute shoppers, some knowing their stores and the chains they represent face do-or-die times.

Sears Holdings continues to suffer massive financial losses. Toys R Us has filed for bankruptcy protection and may close up to 200 stores after the holidays, prompting some suppliers to curtail deliveries. JC Penney has seen better days, though the Waco location was brimming Thursday and Friday. And the H&M fashion chain is warily eyeing its bottom line.

Richland Mall manager Kandace Menning said holiday traffic there “has been a little soft,” though she has not yet received reports from individual stores.

“My observation is that I would be happy with flat,” Menning said.

In other words, the crowds there are nothing to write Santa about.

“And why would they be?” she said. “You have people like ‘Good Morning America’ telling people to stay out of the malls and buy online. Retail is more challenging than ever. No one has the time they used to have. Walk the mall and you will see people on their cell phones, comparing prices.

“Bottom line is that some of our tenants are crying the blues, saying sales are soft, while others are going gangbusters.”

She listed the remodeled Victoria’s Secret, the expanded Bath & Body Works and the JC Penney store as obvious success stories this holiday season, where crowds have been large enough to catch her eye.

The 45,000-square-foot Dick’s sporting goods store under construction will enhance the mall’s appeal when it opens in spring 2018, she said.

Overall, holiday sales are purring, buoyed by record-level online sales led by Amazon, which reportedly will capture 50 percent of the tally.

The National Retail Federation predicted holiday sales would increase 4 percent this year over last, to $682 billion, while a tracking firm called Customer Growth Partners recently increased its projected year-over-year increase from 4.5 to 5.6 percent, according to an MSNBC online story.

If that jump materializes, “that would be the strongest holiday season since just before the Great Recession,” according to MSNBC.

It mentions that going into “Super Saturday,” retailers including Best Buy, Walmart and Ross Stores are seeing green, with home-improvement giants Home Depot and Lowe’s also reporting ringing registers.

Anyone passing the Target Greatland store at Bosque Boulevard and Wooded Acres Drive on Friday would have seen a packed parking lot, with exiting shoppers pushing carts brimming with merchandise.

The Kohl’s at Central Texas Marketplace had winding lines at the registers both Thursday and Friday.

“I did all my shopping in November, but I’m here with my mom to pick up a few last-minute things,” said Larissa Verde, 28, a University High School teacher who was checking clothing prices at Kohl’s.

Her other favorite shopping destinations include the Sephora cosmetics boutique in JC Penney and Target Greatland, Verde said.

Elsewhere in Kohl’s, Linda Salinas, 48, was trying on jewelry with designs on picking out a ring husband Paul Salinas, 47, would buy her for Christmas. Linda said her shopping list included stops at Walgreens, Walmart, Sephora at JC Penney, and Dillard’s.

Joyce Guelle, 54, a Clifton resident, said she spent much of the morning shopping on Amazon, but a deal on shirts and wool socks required a visit to the Cabela’s store at Central Texas Marketplace.

“I bought a couple of novelty items online, but I do most of my real shopping in brick-and-mortar stores,” Guelle said.

First Data Corp., which collected data from 1.3 million point-of-sale locations, reported the holiday season has brought strong demand for electronics, appliances, building materials, furniture and home furnishings. The result has been a 5.4 percent increase in retail spending between Oct. 28 and Dec. 15, according to a recent report by Reuters.

The state of Texas in November saw its jobless rate drop to 3.8 percent, an all-time low, according to a report Friday by the Texas Workforce Commission. In the Waco Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes McLennan and Falls counties, the rate was 3.5 percent.

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