- By Rose Kennedy For the AJC
While hilarious television host Ellen might be able to make the perils of holiday mall parking funny ("New Year's Eve, you finally get that space"), the rest of us find little humor in the waiting and anxiety involved in parking at the mall to shop for presents.
Ellen can make the executive decision to skip ever purchasing her mom items from the mall’s Victoria’s Secret, again, but ordinary shoppers need to wade into the fray for gifts−from visits to big department store holiday sales or “buy local" boutiques located at the mall −to shop for the "missed the shipping deadline for guaranteed Christmas delivery" items you could have bought online.
With the National Retail Federation expecting holiday shopping to increase between 3.6 and 4 percent this year for a total of $678.75 billion to $682 billion and consumers saying they'll spend an average $967.13 each, the malls are going to be packed, along with the parking lots.
But before you let mall parking lot mania take the ho-ho-ho out of your holiday, consider these tips for avoiding (most of) the mall parking lot mayhem:
Park before the mall opens: The early bird gets the worm and the best parking spots. And no one is saying you have to stay at the mall after you park early. Have a friend swing by to get you for breakfast or early shopping at an all-night grocery store while you wait for the mall to open. She drops you off, you do your shopping and lookie here, your parking spot awaits you at the end. If you don't have a buddy who wants to do this, see if an Uber or Lyft driver can accommodate you.
Consider valet. Dianne Williamson, a columnist for the Telegraph and Gazette in Worcester, Massachusetts, summed up a tip sheet from parking operator AmeriPark this way: "Life is short. Just use a valet, already." Indeed, many malls and the restaurants therein do offer valet parking and the price may be well worth it for the harried Christmas shopper, especially if stores and restaurants at the mall offer valet parking promotions.
Another AmeriPark tips worth heeding: Remember that many current valet programs are ticketless, so charge up your phone before leaving the house, because your phone number is your ticket. You'll also save time by using your phone to pay and tip electronically and call for your car ahead of time."
Time your entrance for when other people are leaving. Of course, lunch hour, weekends and after work are always going to be the times when the holiday mall parking is the busiest. But if you can't avoid those times entirely, try to hit the mall parking lot about a half hour after other events or popular venues are letting out.
If your mall includes a theater showing of the latest “Star Wars” movie, for example, you may want to time your parking lot debut for a few minutes after the showing lets out and people are surrendering parking spots in droves. Same for the conclusion of the city's tree lighting ceremony, or the end time of Olive Garden's all you can eat soup and salad lunch price special. You'll just need to do a bit of research.
Park far from the popular stores of the hour. Get a mall map and plan to park in an area far from the stores that are popular at a particular time of day or evening. Head for the lot that isn't near Starbucks or Cinnabon in the morning, for example, or the one farthest from Build-a-Bear Workshop on school holiday afternoons.
Roll on. Borrow from business travelers and school children and bring luggage on wheels or a rolling backpack on your journey. That way it won't matter nearly as much if you're able to park near your favorite store: you can just roll along with your purchases and through the parking lot to the space you could find. The rolling carrier idea also cuts down on repeat visits to stash purchases in your car (and reduces the number of times you delude aspiring parkers into thinking you're leaving and freeing up a space.)
And if you somehow still end up circling the mall parking lot or inching down an icy lot following a family of 19 to the spot you hope they're vacating, make one last attempt to hold on to your holiday spirit. Remind yourself that you are not alone in this pit of capitalism gone mad by listening to “Funny Christmas Song! Parking Around the Shopping Mall”, sung to the tune of “Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree”. This 2010 Barry Mitchell song accompanied by accordion, perfectly sums up the mall at Christmas parking scene. If you replay it six or seven times, you may have that parking space before you're done!