AUGUSTA — Stores and parking lots at the Marketplace at Augusta and other central Maine shopping centers were crowded early Saturday morning as shoppers tried to get those last-minute holiday gifts.

At Barnes and Noble, located near Sam’s Club at the Marketplace, customer traffic had been steadily increasing since early last week, and some shoppers said they tried to visit the store Friday but encountered a traffic jam in the parking lot.

“I tried to get some extra books for my new grandson, but navigating the parking lot Friday wasn’t worth it, so I’m back today,” said Anne Thompson, of Waterville. “I know I shouldn’t have waited until the last minute, but it seems like I’m not the only one.”

Store manager L.T. Sierra said traffic at the new Day’s Jewelers in Augusta had been great the last few days leading up to Christmas. The jewelry store, the company’s seventh location, opened two days before Thanksgiving and has done brisk business since.

“We’re right on line with our other stores, and people are happy to have us back in the Augusta area,” Sierra said. Day’s had a store in Augusta for more than 40 years until it closed in 1985 before returning to the area with the opening of the 6,000-square-foot store last month.

“We’ve been hearing a lot of people excited to have a family owned, locally owned company back in the area,” Sierra said. “They like the local feel and the atmosphere in the store.”

Sierra said he had plenty of men coming into the store the last few days of last week to buy diamond earrings, necklaces, birthstones, mother’s pendants and rings. “We see a little bit of everything these last few days,” he said.

Just one exit south on Interstate 95 from the Marketplace, Best Buy opened its doors at 7 a.m., and general manager Bryan Lindsey said he expected big crowds throughout the day. Lindsey and other store managers at the Marketplace weren’t sure why it seemed like more people waited until the last minute to shop this year.

“We’ve seen traffic increased tenfold the last few days, and it seems like everyone is waiting until the last minute more so than in years past,” Lindsey said. “I think a couple of the snowstorms we had stopped everybody, especially the one we had that Saturday, which was a killer.”

Lindsey said the store was prepared for large crowds as the day progressed, and he expected most of his employees will have worked a shift by the time the store closed at 6 p.m. Saturday evening.

“We’ve always closed earlier on the major holidays, and it’s one of the things I love about Best Buy,” he said. “And we have shorter days on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day so people can spend time with their families.”

In Gardiner, Renys opened at 8 a.m. and was scheduled to close at 5 p.m., a few hours earlier than normal. At around 9 a.m., many customers were walking through the aisles looking for last-minute stocking stuffers and gifts for children and adults, including Tom Jones, of Saco, who was heading to Sugarloaf with his family.

“Renys is a fun store all the time, and it’s especially fun around the holidays because it has something for everyone on your list,” Jones said. “I can get some last-minute bonus gifts for my wife, my son and my daughter and not break the bank.”

Lindsey said shoppers had been coming to Best Buy last week looking for items for the connected home. He said Amazon Echo and Google Home devices had been selling out as soon as the shelves were restocked. On the other hand, he was surprised the store hadn’t sold more drones.

“We thought drones were going to be really big because of how much drone business we did last year,” Lindsey said. “But every time we get virtual reality items, they are sold out.”

With Christmas falling on a Sunday, Lindsey expected Monday to be busier than a normal Monday, but people tend to wait a little bit longer these days to do returns and exchanges or to redeem gift cards than in the past.

Thompson, who used $50 in cash to buy several books at Barnes and Noble before heading to Wal-Mart and Old Navy, said she typically tries to wait a few days before doing any returns or exchanges.

“Sometimes I like to see if my initial reaction to a certain gift changes after a couple days,” Thompson said. “There’s been many occasions where I’ve disliked something when I opened the gift but ended up really enjoying it.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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