PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Surrounded by reams of ribbons and rows of bows, Cindy Bomar struggled to get out a full sentence inside the courtesy coat check and gift-wrapping station at Aroostook Centre Mall on Saturday afternoon.
“We’ve been right out straight,” she said, wiping her hands on her bright green apron and stopping just as one of many volunteers approached her.
“How much are we charging for wrapping?” the volunteer asked.
“Are her gifts ready?” another volunteer inquired before Bomar could reply, pointing to a woman in a long wool coat. “And do we have gift bags?”
That kind of confusion was common at the Presque Isle mall throughout the day, as shoppers were out in force to take advantage of sales and complete holiday customs during the last shopping weekend before Christmas.
Just after noon Saturday, few open parking spots at the mall were visible. Inside, children and their parents waited in line by Sears to take a train ride around a miniature track that circled a wonderland of snowmen, snow globes and elves created by mall staff.
Amid the wonderland, sitting in a hut surrounded by a white picket fence, Santa Claus sat before a crowd of children who were waiting to recite their Christmas lists.
“It is unbelievable here,” said Sarah Haney of Presque Isle, waiting in line to see Santa with daughter 6-year-old Amy. “We’ve been here for close to three hours, and it seems to be getting more crowded every minute.”
Haney said she had almost finished her shopping but didn’t yet have a picture of her daughter with Santa Claus.
“This seemed like a good weekend to do it,” she said. “Amy is getting more excited because Christmas is getting so close, so for her to see Santa Claus right now, it just adds to it.”
After talking to Santa, Amy Haney said she was confident she would find Holiday Barbie and “a new game” under the tree.
Jess Miller, 17, of Houlton, was visiting the mall with her family. She had been to the mall for just less than an hour and already had hit three stores.
“I am all done shopping for my family and friends, so I’m just here shopping for me right now,” she said with a grin. “I expected it to be busy. It is not too bad. They seem to have enough staff on so that you aren’t waiting in line forever.
At the other end of the mall, Bomar was coordinating the action inside the gift-wrapping station. The station opened Dec. 18 and will continue until Dec. 24. As part of the effort, offered for more than a decade, shoppers drop off presents and have them wrapped by volunteers. The gift-wrapping is free, but donations are accepted to benefit the Aroostook County branch of the American Red Cross.
On Saturday, volunteers from the Aroostook Retired Senior Volunteer Program, as well as friends and family members of Bomar’s, were staffing the station.
“We have been right out straight yesterday and today,” said Bomar. “I have done this for the past four years, and it really puts you in the holiday spirit. “
Nearby tables were piled high with gifts of clothes, toys, shoes and books. Bomar said most volunteers stayed for two- or three-hour stints throughout the day.
“A lot of people like this because it is so convenient,” she said. “They can do some shopping, drop off their gifts and then do some more shopping.”
Ed Thomas of Caribou was one shopper who was grateful for the services of the volunteers.
“I have them wrap my gifts most every year,” he said. “I admit it, I’m a typical man. I can’t wrap worth a darn.”